Tag Archives: Navy

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.)

Admiral Scott Swift on Leadership, Risk, and a Life in the U.S. Navy

By Christopher Nelson

I recently had the chance to sit down and chat with Admiral Scott Swift, the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.  In forty-five minutes we covered a range of topics, from leadership styles to discussions on risk, naval culture, and why he joined the U.S. Navy.

Sir, I’d like to start with a question about leadership. How would you describe your leadership style?

It’s an interesting question. I think if you want to understand my leadership style you have to ask a lot of other people. My experience is that when leaders are asked that question, they describe what they desire their leadership style to be as opposed to what it actually may be. But in a word, I would say the leadership style I try to emulate is to be inclusive. Leaders that I admire most are those leaders that have pursued an inclusive leadership style. As opposed to the opposite  an exclusive leadership style one that excludes other opinions, one that excludes ideas that don’t match with their view of the world. Part of that inclusive leadership is uncertainty, it’s an important element. And it’s not something that is to be diminished but recognized and accounted for.  

Anytime you are a leader in the military  or leader of any organization there is more uncertainty than certainty in the decisions you face. And yet I struggled for a long time looking for words to describe that uncertainty in a broader context. Someone mentioned to me, actually they walked up to me and gave me a little piece of paper with a word written on it, and the word was “vulnerability.” I think as a leader it is important to be vulnerable. I don’t hear anyone saying that. Rather, I hear people saying to be a good leader it is about toughness, it’s about courage; it’s about being demonstrative and committed. I don’t see people saying it is really important as a leader to be vulnerable. Now, I don’t recommend that approach either, but in a discussion about leadership, I think it is important to tie that vulnerability into an element of inclusive leadership.

For example, I don’t like sitting at the head of the table. I sit here, on the side of the table during meetings. I do it on purpose because it makes the circle bigger. More people can talk when you are sitting in this chair directly across from you rather than sitting at the head of the table. This is especially true for the people envisioned as having the most power and that are most relevant are those that sit closest to the head of the table, as opposed to the tail of the table. So being inclusive, I think, is important. I’d like to think if you talked to 100 different people that know me, the majority would agree that my style is inclusive.

Are there are any people from your career or from history that you emulate, or that you think are great at inclusive leadership?

I think we are shaped by the time we are 16 years old. And I think the largest shaping element is our parents in those 16 years. I say 16 because by that time you start to think you are out from under that umbrella our parents provide. Then at about 18, you are really start transitioning out. So the transition occurs between 16 and 18. And of course, it could be grandparents or another individual that you may be drawn to that provides that guidance.

My experience, mainly from a discipline perspective, is when I get most insights into a Sailor’s background. I’ve seen wonderful Sailors come from wonderful parents; I’ve seen wonderful Sailors come from terrible parents, terrible Sailors from terrible parents, and terrible Sailors from wonderful parents. I think it is troublesome to try and correlate what happens in those 16 years.

The examples of leadership that are most compelling, those clearest to me, are examples of bad leadership. I had a tyrannical commander during one of my first tours. The squadron that I went to was the worst squadron on the base everyone knew it and no one wanted to go there. But that’s where I ended up. I knew right away that I did not want to be a leader like that commanding officer. We thought the executive officer was exactly the same as the commanding officer because he was very loyal. He would say things like, “We need to support the CO.” But after the change of command, we realized he was a completely different leader. Two weeks later he was killed in an aircraft mishap. There was a direct input commanding officer that was put in that was just phenomenal, one of the best leaders I have ever worked with. But the leadership lessons that I got from him I never understood until, three, four, five years later. So the negative lessons are very clear in my mind.

The positive lessons are much more subtle. It goes back to what I learned from my parents, who had the largest influence on me. They were inclusive. And then I’ve had examples that have reinforced those experiences throughout my career.

Do you have any advice you would give to your younger self in the Navy? Any regrets?

I tell the same story all the time. I joined the Navy to get out of the Navy. I wanted to be an airline pilot. I couldn’t afford the certifications and the flight times that the airlines required. I joined the Navy because I wanted to fly, to get experience. At that time it was only a four-and-a-half year commitment from the time that you got your wings. And when my commitment was up, I was a week from leaving the Navy, I had all my paperwork, then I decided to pull my papers because I was afraid I couldn’t engender the same relationships outside the Navy as inside the Navy.  

In fact, it’s funny, I know you’re familiar with Admiral Stavridis’ book The Accidental Admiral. I wanted to sue him for copyright infringement because I have been referring to myself as the accidental admiral for some time [laughter]. I made some comment to a group of people back when I was a one-star, and I would refer to myself as the accidental admiral, and I’d tell people that no one was more surprised than I was when I made admiral. And then afterward there would be a big line of people lined up, I assumed ready to congratulate me on these incredible statements I made. But no, they were there to tell me that they were more surprised than I was when I made admiral. My ego couldn’t take it anymore [laughter].

I think along with leadership there needs to be a true sense of humility. You shouldn’t feel worthy of the job. You should be made to feel unworthy because of the quality and commitment of the people around you. I was just up in the N37, the operations directorate. It is a small group of individuals, and it’s just incredible what they do. I don’t think they totally appreciate what they do and the impact of what their day-to-day actions are having on the Fleet.

It leads me to the direct answer to your question: I tell people that I owe the Navy everything and I owe the Navy nothing. I got in the Navy to get out, and here I am a four-star. I used to ask myself, “How in the heck did this happen?” Everybody else would say, “Yeah, I know, we are trying to figure out the same thing, so quit asking that question as well.” But at the same time, when I say I don’t owe the Navy anything, I’ve never done anything just to get a job. So my advice to people is, for example, if you really don’t want to go to Washington D.C. for a job, but you know it’s the best thing for your career, well, then don’t go. I’ve had three tours in Washington. D.C.  I went back as the director of the Navy staff because the CNO said you have to come back to be the director because you don’t have a clue how the building works. I said, “Yeah, I don’t want to know how the building works” [laughter].

When I was a one-star I had a two-star come into my office. He was obviously down and wasn’t in that great of a mood. I said, “Hey, what’s up?” He said, “I just found out I’m going to this job.” I said, “I would love to go to that job. So where’s the bad news in this?” His comment was that no one that went to that job was promoted to a three-star. So, here I am a one-star, and this guy’s a two-star, and he’s worried about making his third star? He was worried about all the wrong things. The job he was offered was a great job that would have opened all types of doors inside and outside the military.

I have no regrets.  I always viewed every set of orders that I got as an opportunity.

A friend of mine once told me that he tries to balance work, family, and faith. I’ve seen your schedule, you are incredibly busy. How do you balance your work and family life?

When I was an O5, I was spending way too much time with work and not enough time with family. So we took a day out of the weekend and said this day is for us. We weren’t going to do anything that I didn’t want to do, and we weren’t going to do anything my wife didn’t want to do. We’d pick a day, a Saturday or a Sunday. The first day I grabbed a bucket sitting out in the garage, and she asked, “What are you doing?” I said, “Well, this is our day together.”  “I know,” she said, but “what are you doing?”  I said, “I’m going to wash your car.”  She then said, “That’s what you want to do, I don’t care what my car looks like.” Even then I was still too focused on the stuff that needed to get done. I have a hard time relaxing. That lasted for that tour and it lasted through my major command tour. Once I made flag officer it went out the window.  

So what we do now is on Saturday and Sunday morning we don’t set the alarm; we wake up when we wake up. We go downstairs and have a cup of coffee and sit in the living room and just talk about whatever is on our minds. It might be ten minutes or it might be two hours. Whenever work intrudes I have to go off and do the work thing. We go out on Saturday to either lunch or dinner. And then on Sunday, we’ll go out to lunch. My Sunday afternoon is committed to getting ramped back up for the week. Then one week out of the quarter I take leave. My wife said we can’t spend our leave on Oahu, we have to get off the island because work is always there. So I said, “How about the big island, you know, for distance?” She said, “Yeah, that would work.” I thought: that was too easy.  So we started planning our first trip. I said to her, “You said the big island was OK, so are you thinking about Kona?”  She then said, “No, no, I meant the big island  California or east.” That was a wakeup call [laughter]. But you have to find that time for yourself. It’s a sacrifice. You have to have the humility to ask yourself what are the things we need to do together.

There’s a saying that a chaplain whispered in my ear as a reminder when I was talking to the Sailors at the Fitzgerald memorial, and I think it is originally a Morale, Welfare, Recreation (MWR) saying, but it’s “Mission First, Sailors Always.” I always thought that was backward. I changed it when I was a strike group commander. What I said was “Sailors First, Mission Always.” And then I changed it from “sailors” to “people.” So now what I say is “People First, Mission Always.” Because if you put the mission first there is never time for people. The mission will just consume all the energy and all the resources that you have. Show me a mission you can get done without people. If you focus on the people they’re going to get the mission done. People naturally gravitate toward getting the mission done. They don’t gravitate towards spending more time with their family. That’s the message we have to drive through the idea that you have to make time for you and your family.

I thought this was going to be a two-year tour, but when I found out this was going to be a three-year tour, I knew I had to make a change. When the CNO told me it was going to be three years, I sat down with my wife the next morning. I found out on a Friday, and that next morning, that Saturday, it impacted me and my wife the same way. Both of us knew we would have to change our lifestyle. We knew we had to take measured time off; we came to this conclusion independently.  

Sir, I want to shift the conversation to risk. And the anecdote that is often used as a comparison between today’s Navy and the Navy of the early 20th century is Admiral Nimitz grounding his ship, the USS Decatur, when he was an ensign. He turned out OK, even though he was court martialed and received a letter of reprimand. Behind this anecdote is the idea that years ago we would accept more risk and failures were forgiven. But today we simply don’t. Do you agree with that? Are we a risk averse Navy? Do we know how to fail and allow ourselves to learn from those failures?

Yes. I think we are a risk averse Navy and, not only that, a risk averse society. I think it is driven by a few things. 9/11 has something to do with it as does the numerous bombings and terrorist attacks over the years. Parents are nervous about where their kids are, and so on. I used to take off out of the house when I was a five year old. I was well beyond the confines of what my parents thought the neighborhood was. I didn’t give it a second thought; my parents didn’t give it a second thought. And I would be much more concerned about my kids doing that today after reading all these reports in the paper about crimes.  

So I don’t think the risk is any higher today, however, we are more informed as a society today, and because we are more informed we tend to be less tolerant. We are less tolerant of making mistakes. And unfortunately, the by-product of that is we are less tolerant of learning. In my mind we are caught in this loop: we don’t want to learn by making mistakes, so we have more mistakes, more mishaps. We try to manage risk directly as opposed to saying, as an example, letting a young child explore the world and make mistakes, it’s part of life’s learning. I think that’s true in the military. We do need to be more tolerant of risk. There need to be fewer implications with respect to making mistakes. And I mean regimented implications. You need to study each mishap as being unique. And then from what you learn you need to decide what measures need to be taken to prevent it from happening again.

Do you think this discussion about risk will be one of the biggest challenges the Navy will face in the next 5-10 years?

I don’t know if it will be the biggest challenge, but it is a challenge the Navy needs to take on. And its a culture change, so it is going to take a long time.  

The culture we need to change in the Navy is a 20-year culture. People that are going to leave before retirement, those people will be hard to change. The most compelling group to change is the group that is going to stay for 20 years. If you are trying to influence a group that has a 20-year lifespan within the organization, you’ve got to force the change as a commander and hold that change “lever” for 10 years. If you want to move the culture, and you hold that lever over, after 10 years, when you let go of the lever, it’s going to go to the middle. Half the people are used to where you held the new culture at, the other half remember how it was. And that half that remembered what it used to be like…well, they don’t like change, they don’t like uncertainty, they like that stability. They don’t like all of those elements that we characterize as risk.  

Risk aversion is part of our society certainly the world and American society and it’s part of our Navy. I think the experiences of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom were incredibly resourced from a financial and manpower perspective, so commanders drove risk to zero. We are not going to have those kinds of resources to face our future threats.

On the staff, we talk about how you like to say a polarizing statement, particularly in a brief or a small group discussion. Is there a reason why you use the polarizing statement?

Time. My most precious personal resource that I have is time. My most important professional resource is people. This is the danger of being inclusive. You can’t just sit around and have the big long conversation. That’s not what being inclusive is about. What’s being inclusive is the diversity of the group as well. You need to have a diverse staff. It’s not gender diversity, it’s not racial diversity, it’s none of those things it’s the diversity of ideas. We get to a diversity of ideas by seeking to include people within our spheres of leadership and organization that have had different life experiences than us. And we have to value them for those experiences, for who they are.

That is why I seek to surround myself with people whose life experiences are different than mine. Who are not white males, from southern California, who went to OCS, and flew jets. Otherwise, we end up as a group-think organization. But if you don’t create an inclusive environment, no one is going to bring those ideas in.  So if you don’t sit here at the table and invite people to put all their ideas on the table and then criticize the ideas without criticizing the individual that’s what’s being inclusive. But that takes time. To optimize the time I want to keep the dialogue going.  

If we start out on the margins of the issue, circling around until we finally get to the core issue, and it takes twenty minutes, we’ve just wasted twenty minutes. So if that is what the discussion should be about, well, put that on the table. This is what the discussion is, and drive the discussion out in an increasing circle from there. This additional discussion can happen after you have that polarizing statement. [FIG 1.]  

FIG 1. Admiral Swift on the Value of the Polarizing Statement

The other reason is, in order to be inclusive, people have to be willing to put their ideas on the table. I need to be willing to my put my ideas on the table and have people critique them, just like anybody else. So, who has the better idea, me or you?

It depends on the topic and the person’s expertise.

Absolutely. But I’ve got this bubble around me. People think that because I have four stars that somehow I am intellectually superior to them. That’s not the case. You’ve got to empower the group. That’s not a common response. That’s the response of someone that has been inculcated in an inclusive learning environment, in an inclusive leadership environment. So let’s have the polarizing statement first so we know what the goal is, and then people can say, “I don’t think that is central to the discussion.” Yes, the issue may be somewhere else. And I reserve the right to change my mind. Here’s what I think today, ten minutes later I might have a different thought. Leading is listening; it’s not transmitting, it’s not one-way communication.  

Sir, to be fair, as a four star when you change your mind, it has reverberations. Do you realize the unintended effects it may have on the staff?  

You have to be careful with what you say. Sometimes I don’t appreciate that enough. The best rank that I ever had was lieutenant. I had more authorities, more insights, and more knowledge about my specific weapon system. And I could get more things done as a lieutenant. But now that I am a four star, yes, I can get specific things done by throwing my weight into it, but I still think of myself as a lieutenant.  

Whenever I say something about work, my wife always says, “Here we go again, the staff is going to jump through hoops, they are going try and deliver on that.” She’s right. It’s just a comment that I make, so it does have an impact. In answer to your question: We should delay decisions until two points. One point is when you determine no more information is going to come into the situation, and then move on.  

If this is when you are aware of the problem, here (A1), and this is when the decision needs to be made (A2). You should not make a decision until this point unless you have sufficient information to make the decision earlier. If you do have that information, well, then make this decision at this point and give all this time back to others to focus on other things, then we are done with problem A. We’ve made a decision here, now let’s move on to the next problem which is problem B.

So now this is problem B solving time. You may get to the point where you don’t have enough information to make the decision, that’s when you go to the commander, and the commander says this is what we are going to do. The first decision point is when you have the knowledge to make an informed decision, the second decision point is when you have to actually make the decision.

FIG2. Admiral Swift on the Science & Art of Decision Making

Commanders lose sight of this because they want all the power that comes with the authority of command, but they don’t want the responsibility. Well, then why did you make that decision? I didn’t have enough information to make an informed decision, so I made an uninformed decision. How many people are willing to say that? That’s what command is. Nimitz made uninformed decisions all the time. The decision Nimitz made for the Coral Sea was absolutely uninformed. It was subjective. So we talk about the science of leadership and we talk about the art of leadership.

All the data and information is science decision space. You get to a point when you are not gathering any more information, and this becomes the art of leadership.

What’s the last good book you read?

It won’t surprise you, you’ve read it, but it’s Jim Hornfischer’s Neptune’s Inferno. There’s a whole raft of reasons why that book is compelling. It’s a book on the science of leadership and the art of leadership. It’s also easy to read. If I can’t figure out where the author is going on a subject within the first thirty pages, then it is difficult for me to continue with a book because rarely do I have the time.  

Neptune’s Inferno, by James Hornfischer (Google Books Images)

It is a compelling book because it gets at a strategic dichotomy between the Marine Corps and the Navy. It’s compelling from a leadership perspective, with Admiral Ghormley being stuck behind his desk and not being able to circulate through the battlefield. And the tyranny of distance the Nimitz picture with the HF radio in the background he’d listen to the communications and through those comms, he would try to patch together what was going on. He knew he had a problem with Ghormley, but he couldn’t figure out exactly what it was. It took him three months to come to the decision that he had to relieve Ghormley to get the campaign moving forward. So he had a decision to make: do I send Halsey or do I send Spruance? I like Spruance because I am a believer in inclusive leadership. (And another great book is The Quiet Warrior, by Buell. I am attracted to Spruance, so that is not an unbiased recommendation. I’ve read it several times.)  

So Nimitz decided to send Halsey down there because he needed someone to kick ass. He didn’t need a lot of theory applied; he needed a bunch of ass kicking, someone to get it done. That to me is compelling from a leadership perspective. That comes out in Neptune’s Inferno.

And then the technical piece is interesting. We had some young lieutenants that were involved in the design process of radars. They were providing advice to the task group commanders on how to use radar. But the task group commanders were putting the radar ships in trail. Information was the key to night fighting. So the radar pickets should have been up forward to give a better sense of what the Japanese were doing.  So we’ve got this technology piece which is a lesson as well. I’m a big believer in the Third Offset strategy, but I’m concerned we are going too far to technology as being the solution. The most critical weapon system that we own in the U.S. military is something that we all carry with us all the time it is right between our ears. That’s what we need to get focused on. That’s why that book resonates with me.

Along these lines, where do you go for your news? How do you consume daily news media?

I asked my PAO if there was a program out there that could sort through news and blogs. And I’ve found a news app, and I do a lot of reading with that application. But you have to be careful with an application like that because you tend to self-select stuff. So if you read stuff that you agree with you are reinforcing your own ideas. So you need diversity. And I don’t have a favorite news channel. I view all channels regardless of my personal view. You have to have alternate views, and you are not going to get them if you go single source. All of my personal reading is actually professionally based.  

Last question, what advice would you give to the next Pacific Fleet Commander?

Having that sense that there are going to be good people there, that they will help you through this process, is the advice that I would give. You need time ahead of the turnover to circulate through the staff to get a sense of what is going on. And you need time after turning over to circulate through the staff. After I took this job, a month was set aside for what I call listening. Another month was set aside for observing, and a third month was set aside for acting. The pass-downs are easier the more senior we get. The pass-down I got when I was the coffee mess officer as an ensign, well, that was a lot of accounting. The pass-down as the security officer as a lieutenant, that was a pain, no one had done an inventory for over two years. I was like “what!” Tracking down all the stuff that had been destroyed or not, that was hard.

This job, you know what the science is, the hard part is understanding what the art is. What are the personalities? Surveys are important here because it will help you understand where we are as a staff. That’s how I determine if we are making a difference. Do people feel empowered? Are they excited about coming to work?

Sir, thank you for the time. I enjoyed it.

Thanks for all you do.

Admiral Scott Swift was promoted to Admiral and assumed command of the U.S. Pacific Fleet on May 27, 2015. He is the 35th commander since the Fleet was established in February 1941 with headquarters at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Read his entire bio here.

Lieutenant Commander Christopher Nelson is a naval officer stationed at the Pacific Fleet Headquarters in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and the Navy’s Maritime Advanced Warfighting School in Newport, RI. The comments and questions here are his own and do not reflect those of the U.S. Navy or Department of Defense.

Featured Image: U.S. Navy Adm. Scott H. Swift delivers remarks as he assumes command of U.S. Pacific Fleet from Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. during the change-of-command ceremonies for U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Pacific Fleet in Honolulu May 27, 2015. (U.S. DoD)

Naval Power in the 21st Century

The following essay is the third place finalist for CIMSEC’S 2017 Commodore John Barry Maritime Security Scholarship Contest

By Matthew Lidz

The United States is a continental land power bridging the earth between two mighty oceans. Through our presence at home ports in both the Atlantic and Pacific and forward deployed forces in Asia and Europe we can rapidly project naval power to virtually any spot on the globe. Our naval forces deter threats, support economic growth, maintain global political stability and perform vital counterterrorism missions. These missions are essential to 21st century national security. 

Despite the myriad threats that face our nation in this complex and volatile world, it is difficult to build consensus for United States foreign policy. There are some that argue that we should withdraw to our borders and focus solely on our own interests. However, I argue that this instinct denies a fundamental truth of global security; security is achieved through engagement and not through isolation. 

As the United States was emerging from its tradition of isolationism in the late nineteenth century, President Theodore Roosevelt, himself a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, viewed the Navy as the big stick of American foreign policy. President Roosevelt recognized the ascendancy of America on the world stage and saw the Navy as an effective instrument through which we could visibly demonstrate our commitment to peace, protection, and prosperity.

If war is diplomacy by other means, then the intelligent, strategic use of naval power is a key instrument for both deterrence and war fighting. The presence of the U.S. Navy off a hostile coastline visibly demonstrates national resolve and, through their presence alone, may prevent future hostile attacks against the U.S. or its allies. Through its ability to launch operations with aviation assets and cruise missiles the Navy can strike deep and with lethal force into hostile territory without the need to commit ground troops to a protracted conflict.

90 percent of world trade travels via the seas.  Maintaining safe passage for international trade is in the vital economic interest of the United States and its allies. International Waters or the High Sea is defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as “all parts of the sea that are not included in the exclusive economic zone, in the territorial sea or in the internal waters of a State.” The treaty also says “The exclusive economic zone shall not extend beyond 200 nautical miles.” To simplify, international waters are all waters that are 200 nautical miles outside a country’s exclusive economic zone. By maintaining a constant presence in the world’s shipping lanes, the United States Navy plays a critical role in ensuring free trade throughout the world.

I was born 18 months before the events of September 11, 2001. Like me, every member of my generation has no memory of life before September 11. The global war on terror was a constant presence in our collective consciousness and will continue to shape the world in which we take our place as adults. Maintaining a strong Navy is imperative for the continued economic and military security of the United States in the 21st century. The Navy’s abilities to project force, apply lethal force and deter threats are essential to the maintenance and protection of vital U.S. interests throughout the world.

Matthew Lidz is from Basking Ridge, New Jersey. He is currently a freshman at the University of Richmond 

Works Cited

“Business.un.org.” United Nations. United Nations, 1 Jan. 2017. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.

“Commodities: Latest Crude Oil Price & Chart.” NASDAQ.com. NASDAQ, Jan. 2017. Web. 2 Apr. 2017. <http://www.nasdaq.com/markets/crude-oil.aspx>.

Iata. “Search.” IATA – Price Analysis. International Air Transport Association, 1 Jan. 2017. Web. 2 Apr. 2017. <http://www.iata.org/publications/economics/fuel-monitor/Pages/price-analysis.aspx>.

Perlman, Howard. “How Much Water Is There On, In, and above the Earth?” How Much Water Is There on Earth, from the USGS Water Science School. United States Geological Survey, 2 Dec. 2016. Web. 18 Mar. 2017.

Petty, Dan. “Navy.mil Home Page.” The US Navy — Fact File: Aircraft Carriers – CVN. United States Navy, 31 Jan. 2017. Web. 2 Apr. 2017. <http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4200&tid=200&ct=4>.

Stavridis, James, and Frank Pandolfe. “From Sword to Shield: Naval Forces in the War on Terror.” Naval Forces in the War on Terror. The Naval Institute: Proceedings, 1 Aug. 2004. Web. 2 Apr. 2017. <http://www.military.com/NewContent/0,13190,NI_Navy_0804,00.html>.

“United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.” (2013): n. pag. United Nations. United Nations, 1 Jan. 2016. Web. 25 Mar. 2017. <http://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/unclos_e.pdf>.

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (Sep. 20, 2016) Sailors assigned to the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85) man a phone and distance line while conducting a replenishment-at-sea with the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204) during Valiant Shield 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Christian Senyk/Released) 

Interwar-Period Gaming Today for Conflicts Tomorrow: Press ‘Start’ to Play, Pt. 3

By Major Jeff Wong, USMC

Interwar-Period Gaming  Insights and Recommendations for the Future

The militaries of Germany, Japan, and the United States utilized gaming between the First and Second World Wars to help them overcome challenges relating to doctrine, organization, training and education, and capabilities development. The Versailles Treaty prohibitions prompted Germany to use means other than live-force exercises to study and mature its combined arms concept, test naval and air doctrine, and drive planning for the invasions of Poland, France, and the Low Countries in the European theater. Japan effectively used wargames to inform doctrine and war planning, but biases affected game outcomes and subsequent planning of future campaigns, particularly the Battle of Midway. Japan gamed both strategic and tactical elements of its ambitious Pacific campaign, studying in detail essential tasks as part of its Pearl Harbor and Midway operations plans. Game insights prompted planners to change parts of its Pearl Harbor attack, but failed to sway leaders to examine more closely a critical element of the Midway campaign. The United States, particularly the Navy, combined wargaming with analyses and live-force exercises to study upcoming likely threats and advance naval concepts and capabilities such as carrier aviation. In the United States, Naval War College games of different variations of Plan Orange exposed officers to the theater, operational, and tactical challenges of a conflict against Japan. Many games played over the years between the world wars created a baseline of understanding about how naval officers would fight when war broke out. Now, nearly a century later, today’s U.S. military should apply best practices from those interwar years to spur innovation and overcome the kinds of strategic, operational, and institutional challenges that plagued these adversaries before the Second World War.

This is the final part of a three-part series examining interwar-period gaming. The first part defined wargaming, discussed its potential utility and pitfalls, and differentiated it from other military analytic tools. Part two discussed how the militaries of Germany, Japan, and the United States employed wargames to train and educate their officers, plan and execute major campaigns, and inform the development of new concepts and capabilities for the Second World War. This final part offers recommendations, taken from effective practices of this period, to leverage wargames as a tool today to provide a strategic edge for the U.S. joint force tomorrow.

Wargaming for Today

First, the U.S. military must expand and deepen the use of wargaming at PME institutions as a training and educational tool. Similar to the interwar period, wargames should be used to train officers to make decisions from a commander’s perspective, gain insights into likely adversaries, and learn about the war plans to counter or defeat them. Wargaming design should be part of the regular curriculum to reinvigorate this technique within the uniformed military, since PME institutions are intended to broaden officers’ professional horizons and allow them to explore new ideas. 

At the interwar-period Kriegsakademie, some students had never experienced the brutal combat of World War I and never faced decision-making under fire. Wargaming woven throughout the curriculum gave these future leaders an opportunity to practice “commandership” from the commander’s perspective. Thus, students playing in wargames estimated situations based on given scenarios, outlined courses of action after assessing situations, executed plans, and then absorbed honest critiques of their decisions. In the 1920s and 1930s at the Naval War College, students also received a primer in commandership against the backdrop of a Pacific naval campaign. The students who played the games, as well as the faculty members who designed and umpired these events, shaped and fed a shared mental model about the strategic, operational, and tactical challenges of fighting the Japanese in the coming war. Officers returning to Newport as faculty members brought with them recent operational experiences, including fleet experiments that shaped carrier aviation and informed the requirements of new capabilities.  

Beyond the Naval War College and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, current U.S. PME students are not taught how to plan and develop wargames as part of their regular course work. At U.S. Marine Corps University, for instance, wargaming is taught during a six-week elective at Command and Staff College (if enough students express interest in the elective), but the course fails to relate how games are relevant to real-world war planning and critical U.S. defense processes such as capabilities development.

At the next-level PME institution, students of the Marine Corps War College (lieutenant colonels and commanders) participate in a wargame as part of the curriculum’s Joint Professional Military Education II (JPME II) requirement, but they are never taught how to plan, execute, and analyze a game themselves. Within the Air Force, the Air Force Materiel Command offers three-day introductory courses with curricula tailored to the needs of a client command or organization, but these courses fall short of the integral nature that wargaming fulfilled for the German Army, Japanese Navy, and U.S. Navy during the interwar years.

The Board of Strategy plots moves during a Naval War College wargaming session in the cabin of the USS Wyoming (BB-32). Such rigorous preparatory training during the interwar years. (U.S. Naval Institute Archive photo)

To yield substantive benefits, wargaming must be integrated into service PME starting with captain-level career courses. The first exposure should be at the rank of captain in order to give young leaders intensive, virtual decision-making experience before they assume company command. Company command is the appropriate time to introduce gaming to an officer’s development because his unit gets four times larger (a Marine rifle company has 182 personnel by table of organization, compared to 43 personnel in a Marine rifle platoon) and he must have the mental acuity and confidence to operate without constant supervision from superiors. Gaming gives leaders this experience.  

As an officer’s career progresses, the wargaming curriculum should teach students how to develop, plan, and execute wargames on a larger scale. At top-level schools, an officer should be expert at applying game insights into the vast U.S. military bureaucracy, feeding future-leaning commands and organizations within the supporting establishment that play a key role in developing future strategies, concepts, capabilities, and resource allocations. With its emphasis on decision-making and reflection on the implications of those decisions, wargaming provides a tool to foster imagination and intellectual growth inside and outside a formal schoolhouse setting. Teaching wargaming design to uniformed military members empowers them to create the intellectual venues themselves when they return to the fleet, flight line, or field – much like the officers of the German Army, Japanese Navy, and American Navy did during the interwar period.

Second, the U.S. military should more closely bind service-level wargaming, analysis, and live-force exercises to provide the intellectual and practical test beds to explore and develop new concepts, capabilities, and technologies to overcome unforeseen warfighting challenges. The games and exercises should be conducted as distinct events that are separated by weeks or months, unlike the infamous Millennium Challenge 2002 event, which attempted to synchronize a wargame, experiments, and exercises involving live forces around the world. 

Wargames, analysis, and exercises are complementary elements of a cycle of research that offered fresh approaches and shaped new capabilities during the interwar period. Wargaming provides an environment for players to make decisions and understand their implications without expending blood or treasure. Insights derived from games are generally qualitative in nature. Analysis uses mathematical tools – primarily computer-generated models in today’s military – in an attempt to duplicate the physical processes of combat. Insights derived from analysis are usually quantitative in Both wargames and analysis, however, are only abstractions of reality. Together, they can inform exercises that give real forces the opportunity to implement in the physical domain the new approaches and ideas suggested by wargames and analysis. (See Table 1, Comparison of Campaign Analyses and Wargames.)

Table 1. Attributes of campaign analyses and wargames.

U.S. Navy Commander Phillip Pournelle writes that each of the tools “suffer from their own biases, simplifications, and cognitive and epistemological shortcomings. When integrated judiciously, however, the cycle of research gives leaders at all levels critical facts, synthetic experiences, and opportunities to rehearse a range of events in their minds and in the Fleet or the field.” (See Table 2, Comparison of Exercises and Wargames.)

Table 2. Attributes of exercises and wargames.

The cycle of research has increased momentum at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory’s (MCWL) Ellis Group, which hosts weekly wargames to examine emergent Marine warfighting challenges. The games serve as an incubator for concepts and capabilities under development. During a game in 2015, dozens of uniformed officers and civilian experts gathered around a large sandtable separated by a barrier. A young Marine infantry captain explained how he planned to land his company.  On the other side of the barrier, red cell members – retired field-grade officers and staff noncommissioned officers – determined how they would oppose the landing. On the group’s periphery, analysts recorded observations made by the participants. Scribes filled whiteboards with insights from the game, which they matched against the command’s prioritized list of warfighting challenges. U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General Dale Alford, MCWL’s commanding general, adopted the weekly games after observing the Naval War College’s Halsey Groups use operations analysis and wargaming to examine naval warfighting challenges. “It was mostly about getting the right people involved and in the same room,” he said.

Third, wargaming leaders must ensure an accurate and intellectually honest representation of the enemy. Most games played by the Germans, Japanese, and Americans during the interwar period featured two sides: friendlies and adversaries playing against one another. Some of today’s large service-level games are one-sided, with friendly “blue” actions being played against pre-scripted enemy reactions or a control group attention divided between representing “red” and running the overall event. However, if war is “an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will,” as Carl von Clausewitz suggested in On War, these games must adequately portray the adversary’s will.  One-sided wargames lose the essence of the opposing will when the enemy’s actions are not represented by another human being seeking to win. Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, who previously served as director of Command and Staff College, required all Command and Staff College games to be two-sided affairs. “You need two free-thinking wills … within the bounds of the problem,” said Van Riper, who has consulted on many joint and service games since his retirement from active duty in 1997 and served as the red cell commander during the Millennium Challenge event.

This honest portrayal goes beyond using an expert versed on enemy (e.g., “red cell”) capabilities, limitations, and doctrine. During the Wehrmacht wargames before the invasion of France and the Low Countries, the red cell correctly suggested that French-led Allied Forces would be slow to respond to a German main effort thrust through the Ardennes – prompting planners to shift resources to the army group approaching from the forest. The red cell did not portray an idealized version of the French doctrinal response, which would likely have prompted German planners to shift resources to a different army group and resulted in a different course of action. From the Japanese wargames before the Battle of Midway, historians and professional gamers often cite the sinking – and revival – of two Japanese carriers as an admonition against biases, poor assumptions, and predetermined outcomes.

Fourth, future wargaming efforts should use different types of games for different purposes and desired outcomes. A greater variety of games can attack a problem from different perspectives. A larger number of games provides more opportunities to create fresh solutions. For a new, evolving subject, a wargame with more seminar discussion, less action-counteraction play, and fewer rules might be more appropriate in order to generate player insights and spur creativity. On a topic for which much is already known, a wargame with less seminar discussion, more action-counteraction play, and more rules based on hard data might be more suitable to refine players’ understanding of capabilities.

Back to the Future

The German Army, Japanese Navy, and U.S. Navy used wargaming to shed light on strategic, operational, and tactical uncertainty during the interwar period. In the German Army, wargaming formed the bedrock for the education of officers and provided opportunities for commanders and staffs to rehearse complicated operations such as the offensive against France and the Low Countries in 1940. For the Japanese Navy, planners utilized wargames to examine different ways to employ the Combined Fleet in the opening salvo of the Pacific campaign. The Germans successfully used red cells during their wargames to accurately and honestly portray French forces’ actions during the 1940 campaign, while the Japanese demonstrated the dangers of predetermined notions during wargames before the Battle of Midway. The U.S. Navy found wargaming to be an effective tool for educating officers as well, inculcating the practice among generations of officers who attended the Naval War College and fostering a shared mental model through hundreds of wargames that focused on a potential future war with Japan. Likewise, American naval officers also wargamed carrier aviation, discovering optimal ways to employ forces that massed firepower and extended the reach of the Pacific Fleet. These insights fed the cycle of research that allowed American naval officers to study, experiment, and develop new concepts and capabilities leading up to the Second World War.  

Interwar-period wargaming provided users with a chance to shed light on an opaque future. Although the threats are different, senior U.S. defense leaders face similar ambiguity now. The reassertion of Russia in world affairs, a militarily stronger China, and a multitude of powerful non-state actors have dramatically changed the strategic landscape. Fast-developing capabilities, nascent technologies, unmanned weapons platforms, 3D printing, and human-machine interfacing are among the potential factors of the next great conflict. With no cost in blood and minimal in treasure, wargames can empower U.S. military leaders to exert intellectual leadership and innovate to be better prepared for the future.

Major Jeff Wong, USMCR, is a Plans Officer at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Plans, Policies and Operations Department.  This series is adapted from his USMC Command and Staff College thesis, which finished second place in the 2016 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategic Research Paper Competition.  The views expressed in this series are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.  

1.  Commander Phillip Pournelle, USN (analyst at the Office of Net Assessment, Office of the Secretary of Defense), interview by Jeff Wong, September 24, 2015.

2.  As discussed previously, wargaming is different from COA Wargaming, which is a phase of the joint and services’ planning processes, e.g., the Military Decision-Making Process and Marine Corps Planning Process.

3. Colonel Matthew Caffrey, USAF (Retired) (wargame instructor at the Air Force Materiel Command), interview by Jeff Wong, October 15, 2015.

4. Gary Anderson and Dave Dilegge, “Six Rules for Wargaming: The Lessons of Millennium Challenge ’02,” War on the Rocks, November 11, 2015 (accessed April 1, 2016): http://warontherocks.com/2015/11/six-rules-for-wargaming-the-lessons-of-millennium-challenge-02/.

5. Philip Pournelle, “Preparing for War, Keeping the Peace,” Proceedings 140, no. 9 (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval Institute, September 2014), accessed October 15, 2015: http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2014-09/preparing-war-keeping-peace.

6. Peter Perla, The Art of Wargaming, 287.

7. Brigadier General Dale Alford, USMC (commanding general of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory), interview by Jeff Wong, November 23, 2015.

8. Carl von Clausewitz, On War ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 75.

9. Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, USMC (Retired) (faculty member at Marine Corps University), interview by Jeff Wong, February 2, 2016.

10. Pournelle, interview by Jeff Wong, September 24, 2015.

Featured Image: NEWPORT, R.I. (May 5, 2017) U.S. Naval War College (NWC) Naval Staff College students participate in a capstone wargame. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jess Lewis/released)