Category Archives: Seamanship and Leadership


Memorial Day: Your Real Distruption

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the great maw that was WWI. On this Memorial Day, it should be our purpose to bear witness to the great scope of sacrifices made by those who came before us . Today, we all desperately cry out for “innovation” and “disruption” as if these things are new or unknown to our services. We discuss Google glass and 3-D printing, but in 1914 entire veteran armies were wiped out by new technologies and tactics in a war the likes of which soldiers had never seen; a war within which no innovation could save you. British soldiers went to battle without helmets, Napoleonic-era Cuiassiers rode into battle on horse-back against machine guns, the allies invented tanks to transport men and arms across the no-man land’s corpse-strewn horrors in an attempt to end the conflict that had destroyed a generation of their youth.

On Memorial Day, we honor the men and women who fought for our freedoms; it is critical that, in this remembrance, we realize that -we- are not historically unique. Arguably, while some of our number are heroes of the highest order -we- are not special. Out technology, our education, our innovation is nothing compared to the desperate measures taken in battle by our kin in arms who saw around themselves the end of the world. While we must continue to innovate as a matter of survival, never think our “new” is so significant as to escape the horrors of war. The “Wars to End All Wars” don’t, and any technology that claims to do so is only the guise for future failure.

So, when you think of “innovation” or “disruption” today, don’t think of new ways to use your phone, or the efficiencies you can find through knowledge management… think of the disruptions of war, the men whose sturdy minds snapped in the fields of France under the months-long thunder of guns, those whose innovation was forged in the set-jaw of those saving their civilization, their nation, and their families from a future of starvation, blood, and death.  So, “Happy Memorial Day,” because untold generations have snuffed out their quiet light so that we may be here today. Let us not find pleasure in where we are going and what -we- can accomplish, but find happiness today in that there were those, and still are those, willing to give it all so that we may have that opportunity.


Sea Control 35 – RADM Foggo and Developing Strategic Literacy

seacontrol2RADM Foggo, Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans and Strategy, joins us to discuss the creation of strategic literacy within the Navy’s officer corps. discusses the Current Strategy Forum, a strategy sub-specialty, education, and the mentors that engaged his interest in strategy.

Sea Control 35- RADM Foggo and Developing Strategic Literacy

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A New Kind of Retention Study

49299280A business can hire-in at every level, shifting employment  for new projects and products. The milieu can be fun and exciting! Too bad! The military HR machine is driven by a more concrete, inflexible requirement: to-fill seats of operators and planners necessary to man the defenses.  The military cannot hire-in at every level, it needs to develop people from start to finish, designing in flexibility for future changes but without so much as to demotivate personnel floating in endless holding patterns.  The needs of the force are precariously balanced with the space to hone the warfighter and the warfighter’s own envisioned personal path. In this naturally messy and un-artful system, retention becomes a critical issue.

CDR Guy Snodgrass has decided to attack this problem of retention in a new way… namely, by taking the taking the flexibility and initiative of the private sector and applying them to building his 2014 Navy Retention Study and Survey. Why wait for a new retention study, or petition for new questions from the vetting machine, when you can do a retention study yourself? Bring some friends; build a self-selected group operating on their own dime and time towards a retention-study startup.

Without the fears that weigh against products created by a system to judge itself, the 2014 Navy Retention Study has the potential to break into important territory. In the first day 2,160 page visits have already resulted in 570 completed surveys. USNI, the independent voice of the sea services, started with 15 officers in a chemistry classroom; perhaps these 18 new individuals can create an independent review system that meets with the same success.

The survey itself is detailed – for all ranks – asking community specific questions, even driving towards satisfaction with different community procurement programs and their indicators of future success. This isn’t your typical, “do you feel satisfied with your job,” surveys; it digs beneath the permafrost. If you find yourself taking another lame Buzzfeed “What Sandwich am I?” quizes before filling out this survey… hit yourself!

If you’re reading this and in the US Navy… you should be filling out this survey and standing by for the results. And just in case you didn’t catch the hyperlinks before, HERE IS THE SURVEY!

MemeCenter_1399010059675_293To coincide with this retention push, CIMSEC will be publishing our own little informal study on June 6th , a bit more open ended and less precise. We are looking for active duty and reserve naval personnel (from any country) to write in with a short, 200 or less word summary of a retention issue and potential solution they see in their own community. Please send your thoughts to!


Gardening in a “Barren” Officer Corps

This piece by Benjamin Armstrong – author, pilot, and patriot – first appeared at War on the Rocks. It joins the defensive line with Joe Byerly’s piece at The Bridge and Matthew Hipple’s piece here at CIMSEC.

A recent opinion piece at The American Conservative had a number of military officers scratching their heads. In “An Officer Corps that Can’t Score,” William Lind purports to discuss how careerism in the military breeds “habits of defeat.”  He tells us that:

Defeat in Vietnam bred a generation of military reformers, men such as Col. John Boyd USAF, Col. Mike Wyly USMC, and Col. Huba Wass de Czege USA, each of whom led a major effort to reorient his service. Today, the landscape is barren. Not a military voice is heard calling for thoughtful, substantive change.

This is quite a claim, and rather damning of today’s officer corps with a very broad brushstroke. But is it true? Based on my personal and professional experiences in the U.S. Navy, I would say no. Lind errs on the side of being insulting to some of the dedicated men and women in uniform, but that does not really worry me. They have thick skin. More seriously, he leads his civilian readers astray, leaving them with an inaccurate depiction of a military completely unused to debate.

One needs only to start here at War on the Rocks to see that there is debate by active duty and reserve personnel about the present and future of our armed forces and the use of military means in the 21st century. True, one publication certainly does not indicate a healthy state of discourse. But one need only look around a bit to find one.


BJ Armstrong is a naval officer, PhD candidate in War Studies with King’s College, London, and a member of the Editorial Board at the U.S. Naval Institute. The opinions and views expressed are those of the author alone. They do not represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, or any other agency.


Our Debating Military: Here, If You’re Looking

“Not a military voice is heard calling for thoughtful, substantive change.”

-William S. Lind, “An Officer Corps That Can’t Score”

Will, “hello,” suffice? William S. Lind’s suggestion at The American Conservative Magazine that the Officer Corps is in a blind, intellectual death spiral is weighty indeed, but ignores the vast body of debate going on in the junior and senior ranks of our nation’s military. Rather than our officer corps living in a bubble, perhaps some of those discussing the internal debate of the military writ-large need to reach out of their bubble to see the rich discussion happening -right now-.

“Even junior officers inhabit a world where they hear only endless, hyperbolic praise of “the world’s greatest military ever.” They feed this swill to each other and expect it from everyone else. If they don’t get it, they become angry.”

-William S. Lind, “An Officer Corps That Can’t Score”

Mr. Lind accuses our Officer Corps of a hollow, cavalier attitude that would suggest they neither recognize nor wrestle with the threats of tomorrow or the mistakes of today. Ask any moderately informed officer on their thoughts about cyber-war, the F-35, LCS, insurgency, the utility of carriers, the proliferation of anti-ship cruise-missiles, etc.. and the opinions will be heated and varied. The Center for International Maritime Security has featured an entire week debating the merits of the Navy’s,“Air Sea Battle,” concept. The United States Naval Institute archives decades of articles relating to the debate over carriers. Small Wars Journal is a running testament to the continued debate over insurgency and irregular ground conflicts. There are also sometimes-anonymous outlets, like the Sailor Bob forum, Information Dissemination, or the wild wonderful world of Commander Salamander’s blog; they are quite popular in -light- of the often unique and critical perspective taken by writers.

The self-hate created by my blog's criticism is overwhelming me!
The self-hate generated by my awareness of challenges to US might is overwhelming me!

The majority of these articles are written by officers, with the approval or non-interference of their leadership. Of course, not all military leadership is necessarily embracing criticism, but that is natural to any top-down organization. We’ve made great strides. The Navy released the Balisle Report on its critical issues with maintenance. CDR Snodgrass’ 24 page study on retention is now a topic of wide debate encouraged by VADM Moran, Chief of Naval Personnel. If, as Mr.Lind describes, our officer corps had a comical “hulk-smash” reaction to suggestions of US Military weaknesses or institutional flaws, we’d have long ago beaten ourselves to rubble in the haze of an insatiable rage.

“What defines a professional—historically there were only three professions, law, medicine, and theology—is that he has read, studied, and knows the literature of his field. The vast majority of our officers read no serious military history or theory.”

-William S. Lind, “An Officer Corps That Can’t Score”

Gen. Mattis says we should have a 2000 year old brain... so we can shred triple-neck guitars.
Gen. Mattis says we should have a 2000 year old brain… so we can shred triple-neck guitars.

Mr.Lind suggests that our modern-day officers live in a historical desert, in which the lessons of yester-year are lost. I would suggest those doubters of the military’s historical memory look to the USS PONCE and the Navy’s re-embrace of sea-basing. Thomas J Cutler’s “Brown Water, Black Beret” is an excellent primer on the historical lessons the Navy is re-applying. Perhaps we might highlight the Navy and Marine Corps’ dual scholar-heroes of ADM Stavridis (ret) and Gen Mattis (ret): admired for both their acumen in the field and their rarely equaled study of the history of conflict

Mahan, ideating before it was cool. Photo-shop Credit: Matt Hipple

Perhaps Mr.Lind is disappointed in our lack of engagement with Mahan, in which case I would direct him to LCDR Benjamin Armstrong’s book, “21st Century Mahan.” Perhaps Clausewitz is our flaw? The Army and Air Force officers writing at “The Bridge” would likely demolish THAT center of gravity, if the snarky Doctrine Man doesn’t get there first. Perhaps we have not learned the importance of innovation from history! The military’s 3-D printing labs located around the country would likely raise their eyebrows in bemusement.

A Cleveland native myself, I understand how far Hampton Roads is from Mr.Lind’s home on the Northern Shore. However, anyone like Mr.Lind who doubts the military, officer or enlisted, is interested in tackling the issues should make every attempt to visit the June Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEFx) Conference in Norfolk. From flag officers to those who paint the flagstaff, the gamut of our service will be on location, out of uniform, debating our technical and institutional challenges in an unofficial and free forum. He may even meet some members of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC). If Norfolk is a bridge to far, I’d encourage the doubters to sign up for membership at the Center for International Maritime Security. We have weekly meetings in DC where we talk about everything from Professional Military Education to drone operations.

Courtesy of CIMSEC author, Nicolas di Leonardo.
Courtesy of CIMSEC author, Nicolas di Leonardo.

The military is by no means perfect, but such imperfection is what drives the debate that both officers and enlisted are engaging in on a daily basis. Mr.Lind suggests interesting structural reform to better cultivate leadership in our officers. However he cites the need for such reforms based on a decrepit caricature of an officer corps the US Military is not saddled with. If one hasn’t, as a USNI author once told me, “done one’s homework,” ideas fall flat. There IS a debate happening in America’s Officer Corps, an educational and engaging one. We’re not too hard to find if you look.


Matthew Hipple is an active duty officer in the United States Navy. He is the editor of the NEXTWAR blog at the Center for International Maritime Security, host of the Sea Control podcast, and a writer for USNI’s Proceedings, War on the Rocks, and other forums. He would like to also give a nod to his friends at the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, The Bridge, Doctrine Man, Athena Project, CDR Salamander Blog, Information Dissemination, Small Wars Journal, CRIC, and others who did not realize that they, like he, apparently do not exist.


Happy Birthday John Harrison!

In the midst of dead-end innovation week, an innovative success beyond compare.


Today marks the 321st Anniversary of the birth and the 238th Anniversary of the death of John Harrison, the inventor of the marine chronometer.

During the age of sail, accurately establishing your position at sea could be a dangerous problem. North/South coordinates were easy; east/west coordinates were difficult. When approaching land, sailors would use dead reckoning to ID known points or landmarks. However, many times positions were wrong, or navaids could not be seen, and many times were incorrectly identified. Errors like these often led to shipwrecks and wasted time; ship owners were losing cargo and great sums of money.

After a major shipwreck that accounted for over 200 deaths along with many other ships, the British Parliament offered a prize for the person who could accurately measure longitude; it was called quite simply, “The Longitude Prize,” which had a reward of 20,000 pounds (4.25 million today).

John Harrison was a self-taught carpenter and clock maker; he made it his life’s work to solve the problem by creating a reliable time piece unaffected by changes in temperature, humidity, or pressure. It would also keep accurate time during long distances, resist corrosion, and keep working on a moving ship in all weather conditions. The front runner to win the prize was an astronomer who would use celestial navigation to calculate a ships longitude. John understood that a reliable, easy-to-use time piece was the best method of measuring time, and thereby knowing longitude.

John created five versions of his chronometer, H-1 thru H-5. With H-1 being the largest and H-5 the size of a pocket watch; each kept very accurate time. John died without being awarded the prize, but he did receive funding from the English Parliament to continue his work on after the success of H-1.

His story is not as exciting as other great people in history, but more than most, his contribution in navigation made possible those exciting sea voyages that discovered other far off lands. Reading his story, he became one of my heroes. So if you would please, lift a toast to a great man on his Birthday. Cheers!

Erek Shanchez currently resides in Central Florida and is the Director of Operations for the Central Florida Warriors Rugby League. Retired from the US Navy in 2007 as a Rescue Swimmer and crewman on a 11m RHIB (SWCC).


Classes for Nothing and Degrees For Free Pt. 2, or Knowledge (That’s What I Want)

By LCDR Adam Kahnke and LT Scott Cheney-Peters

In our first post Scott and I wrote about education opportunities available for those supporting the U.S. Navy, from reserve Marine Corps to active Navy to civil servants. We’ve updated that post with additional options thanks to RADM James Foggo, CDR Stephen Melvin, Chrissy Juergens, LCDR Vic Allen, and Tetyana Muirhead. In that article we focused on free courses that can be used towards degrees or certificate programs. But that’s not the only type of free training available.

Alternatively, you might find yourself in the situation “Degreed Out” (BSEE, MBA, CDFM, CISSP, OA Cert from NPS…), in which getting another master’s degree or certification may start merely seeming like alphabet soup. Also, if you’re like me and you find yourself on shore duty, it should be a time for professional and personal development, right? I tried something different and took a few classes through Coursera. Six classes actually, and I’m happy to say this was a very positive and rewarding experience. Coursera offers what are known as massive open online courses (MOOCs). In contrast with the courses in our first post, these typically have no limit on the number of seats in the class and some can be started at any time, although there are many variations on the set-up. While they too don’t charge for enrollment, a few have a small fee to test or “certify” you upon the course’s completion if that is something you’d like to pursue.

With Coursera each class ranged from 6-12 weeks in length and all required a different but not insignificant amount of work.  What did I get for my efforts you ask? All but one of the courses offered me PDF certificates of completion that don’t mean much to anyone but me. More importantly, I learned more than I thought possible in subject matters I chose (Cryptography, Reverse Engineering of Malware, Financial Engineering, Computational Finance, High Performance Computing and Guitar) by the experts in the field (Stanford, University of London International Programmes, University of Washington, Columbia University, Georgia Tech, and Berklee School of Music).

In my humble opinion, this is the future of education. I think this is the greatest invention since the public library system. It is the public library system and the internet combined, with guided direction of the world’s greatest instructors thrown into the mix. I am convinced that this is how the world will judge future academic institutions and decide where they will send their children to study full-time. It is also quite possibly, how future college students will prepare and choose their degree paths. I expect great things for the future due largely to efforts such as these. For Scott’s part, he believes the business model will allow MOOCs to count towards degree and certificate programs at “brick-and-mortar” institutions if they are individually partnered with that institution and upon the successful completion of testing on a fee basis (The Economist has covered the possible future of MOOCs in more depth, as well as even shorter, less-formal learning tools).

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

For an aggregation of MOOC courses across these and other sites check out MOOC-List.


courseraCoursera has 554 institutions offering course-work in various subject areas. Take the world’s best courses for free and earn a certificate of completion. Alternatively, pay a few dollars extra and earn a verified certificate. This certificate verifies your identity by using methods such as your typing patterns and using an online camera to verify your picture. One of the downsides for military members attempting to take Coursera classes related to your job is that the site is not compatible with NMCI’s old browsers.


iTunesU has a large collection of free podcasts in several knowledge areas.  Not surprisingly, if you want to learn how to write an iTunes App this is the place to go. It seems that may universities have their own portal on the iTunesU website.  In my opinion, Apple’s decision to host individual portals has left this site a bit of a mess and course material is slightly unorganized. However, once you find the content you are looking for, it could make your commute to work much more productive.


While I have yet to try this one, Udacity is the same basic concept as Coursera but with a twist. You can take the classes completely on your schedule. Although limited in number by comparison, the course offerings looked fairly attractive. I think I may just try the “Intro to Hadoop and Map-reduce” course if I can squeeze it in. With no deadlines it is much more likely that I will sign up, poke around at the most interesting content, and if I am not completely enamored put it off until another day.


edX_Logo_Col_RGB_FINALedX is another top-tier MOOC which at the time of this writing has 38 courses to choose from, provided in partnership with such institutions as Harvard, MIT, and Georgetown, spanning many subject areas. Most edX course videos are provided by means of YouTube and do their best to incorporate students into discussion groups on online forums. edX also offers certificates of completion, some requiring a fee for identify verification.

Navy Knowledge Online, MarineNet, and Joint Knowledge Online

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention these three sites, which are in fact long-running DoD-restricted versions of MOOCs. While they may not have the best reputation and are saddled with clunky, non-mobile interfaces, they do offer training on topics directly related to professional duties. Additionally, for those seeking to expand their knowledge beyond their designator or rate, there’s a range of interesting coursework available – from drone operations to intel “A” school to short cultural backgrounds on dozens of countries.

Defense Acquisition University (DAU), FEMA, DHS, Defense Security Service

Back in our first post we talked about (at least in the updated version) accredited courses and certificate options available through DAU, FEMA, DHS at NPS, DHS at Texas A&M, and the Defense Security Service’s Center for Development of Security Excellence. As a reminder, they have many online training options there for self-edification as well. Offerings typically focus on subject such as incident response management, cyber security, and counter-terrorism.


While Rosetta Stone used to be available free to servicemembers, that contract has since expired. However, there are still several options for beginning or furthering a language for free. Both NKO and JKO have several languages available, but they’re not the most interactive, and focus primarily on a few of the high-demand target languages and militarily useful skills. That said, if you’re already an intermediate speaker or going on a specific assignment and want to brush up on your ability to talk to your uniformed counterparts, these could be quite useful. iTunesU has a plethora of options, running from minute-long immersion to more structured serial listening podcasts. For those with smartphones there are a variety of free language apps that I have yet to try, but the Duolingo app comes highly recommended and takes an immersion and gamification approach to try and cram learning for fun into the nooks and crannies of your free time. Scott may have to put away The Simpsons Tapped Out and finally get back to his Spanish studies.

If you have any additional recommendations on language learning options, please let us know and we’ll perhaps come up with a part 3. In the meantime let us know what else we missed, and keep on learnin’.

This article was cross-posted by permission from JO Rules.

LCDR Vincent “Adam” Kanhnke is a Navy Campaign Analyst, submarine warfare officer, and runs the site He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and the U.S. Naval Post-graduate School.

LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founder and vice president of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), a graduate of Georgetown University and the U.S. Naval War College, and a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. 

Follow @scheneypeters