Category Archives: Flotilla Tactical Notes

Command by Example: Learning from San Jacinto’s War Council

Flotilla Notes Series

By Capt. Matthew Sharpe (ret.) and GSCM Rich Feldman (ret.)

In Mask of Command, historian John Keegan identified cohesion as the fundamental attribute of Alexander’s Macedonian army. Cohesion united the will and spirit of the commander with that of his closest subordinate leaders, the men Alexander called his “Companions.” Alexander met frequently – often boisterously – with his Companions.

This was no process-driven board or cell. As Keegan explains, “[Alexander did not use] his circle of friends as a sounding-board for his plans. That was not their function; it was personality and character that were under test when Alexander was among his close Companions, the test of quickness of wit, sharpness of retort, memory for an apt phrase, skill in making insult, boast or flattery, capacity to see deep into the bottom of a glass, and no heeltaps.”

With Alexander and his Companions as a model, a select group of officers and enlisted leaders aboard USS San Jacinto (CG 56) met periodically to break bread, bond as warriors, and develop a shared vision of mission success. We called it the War Council.

The membership of San Jac’s War Council was strictly defined. It consisted of the command triad (commanding officer, executive officer, and command master chief), the department heads, and the departmental leading chief petty officers. No substitutes were allowed into War Council meetings. If a principal was unavailable, the seat remained empty.

The War Council served four purposes. First, to build shared awareness of the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead in San Jac’s mission – awareness that crossed department boundaries and was shared by the officers’ wardroom and the chiefs’ mess alike. Second, it provided a forum for innovation, an environment to discuss new and better ways to accomplish tasks. Third, it served to empower War Council members. Each had an equal voice, and rank did not determine the value of a leader’s input. Fourth, it sought to encourage division officers and junior petty officers to aspire to lead departments and ships. Junior warriors could look at the members and think, “I want to be able to do that.”

In one session, the War Council met for lunch with Vice Admiral Phil Cullom. San Jac was preparing for an engagement mission in Africa and Admiral Cullom had written the most recent Navy strategy on engagement. As conversation flowed freely and candidly, STGC Chris Lowden, Weapons Department Leading Chief Petty Officer, asked the admiral, “Since our mission is to influence people in the nations we visit, how can we assess the progress and success of our mission through their eyes, not our own?”

That question – that moment – captured the spirit and purpose of the War Council. The sentiment was contagious. People constructively challenged themselves and each other for the sake of mission success. This mindset – that the War Council actively cultivated – provided a positive impact throughout the ship.

Matthew Sharpe is a former U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer who commanded USS San Jacinto from 2007-2009. He lives and works in Virginia Beach and serves as an advisor to men’s Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) classes across the state. 

Richard Feldman is a former U.S. Navy Senior Enlisted Leader and member of San Jacinto’s War Council as Engineering Department Leading Chief.  He lives in Virginia Beach and continues to serve the Navy as an Engineering Technician for NSWC-Philadelphia Division. 

Featured Image: ATLANTIC OCEAN (June 6, 2012) The guided-missile cruiser USS San Jacinto (CG 56) approaches the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) for a fueling at sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tommy Lamkin/Released)

Prepare for the Spectrum of Competition and Warfighting

Flotilla Notes Series

By Doug Kettler

In the era of renewed great power competition, calls for reform have resulted from a perception that the U.S. military has lost its warfighting focus.1 However, in this era, warfighting is more than delivering “warheads on foreheads.”2 There is a spectrum of interdependent functions that each organization must cultivate to ensure competitive focus. Joint Doctrine Note 1-19: Competition Continuum states, “Rather than a world either at peace or at war, the competition continuum describes a world of enduring competition conducted through a mixture of cooperation, competition below armed conflict, and armed conflict.”3 Warfighting focus should be reframed as competition focus. The challenge for leaders is to ensure that their organizations understand that the competition is already underway.

The first duty of a military leader is to ensure their unit is prepared for combat. However, when viewed through the lens of the competition continuum, units must also be prepared to conduct operations short of armed conflict. The first practical step leaders can take to emphasize the competition continuum in their organization is to educate themselves on the Joint Force’s shift to the competition continuum and campaigning mindset. Next, study doctrine, contingency plans, and tactical guidance. Stay abreast of exercise after-action reports and lessons learned. Leaders must ensure that they understand how their organization fits into not just the war plan, but the whole competition continuum.

Leaders can then spread their knowledge throughout the organization by emphasizing the competition continuum in daily activities. Leaders must ensure their organizations understand how they fit into other parts of the continuum, and cultivate skillsets related to competing below the threshold of war. These activities may include close encounters with harassing maritime militia and conventional forces, calibrated intervention in tense standoffs between allied and competitor vessels, or engaging in high-profile strait transits and freedom of navigation operations. The competition continuum points to how a wide variety of non-combat related activities have a competitive effect in the operating environment. Therefore, these activities deserve a deliberate measure of emphasis on how leaders prepare their forces.

Daily, routine activities must also be connected to the competition continuum. Educating subordinates on information security pays dividends at all levels of competition. Maintaining ready platforms results in well-kept units that assure partners and intimidate adversaries. Liberty and basing in foreign countries are opportunities for cooperation with allies and partners, and incidents can have strategic consequences. Multi-national exercises expand force capacity in armed conflict. Loading weapons beyond the minimum proficiency requirement is necessary to stress processes and prepare for armed conflict. A professional radio exchange with a potential adversary maintains credibility. All of these activities have a bearing on the competitive environment, and leaders must be able to relate the value of their operational activities to the competition at large.

June 23, 2022 – A PLA fighter jet in the course of conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a U.S. asset in the South China Sea, including by approaching a distance of just 40 feet before repeatedly flying above and below the U.S. aircraft and flashing its weapons. (U.S. INDOPACOM photo)

Leaders are challenged to shift subordinate perspectives to think through normal processes at all levels of competition. Exercises and training must focus on difficult combat scenarios as well as grey zone interactions. Leaders and crews must work with weapons schools and warfighting development centers to stay informed of the latest in tactical development, and to update tactics and procedures for both combat and competition below armed conflict. In addition to training, routine methods of communication, maintenance parts sourcing, and operational security all require scrutiny to ensure functionality throughout the spectrum of conflict. Leaders must plan for and exercise backup procedures to routine tasks ahead of time, so that material and personnel losses do not cripple warfighting capability in the midst of combat. Leaders must never let their organizations feel comfortable with their current processes and warfighting ability, and must inculcate a focus on continuous learning and refinement.

The competition continuum presents a new perspective and a helpful framework that leaders can use to prepare their organizations. Every individual and organization must be prepared to engage at all levels of competition.

Douglas Kettler is a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy and a P-8A Weapons and Tactics Instructor. He holds a B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a M.S. from the University of Arkansas. He is currently a student in the College of Naval Warfare at the U.S. Naval War College. His latest operational assignment was as the Operations Officer for Patrol Squadron FOUR ZERO. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the U.S. Naval War College, U.S. Navy, or Department of Defense.


1. Conrad Crane, “Too Fragile to Fight: Could the U.S. Military Withstand a War of Attrition,” War on the Rocks, May 9, 2022, See this article as an example of calls to be more prepared for the changing character of war.

2. Anna Mulrine, “Warheads on Foreheads,” in Air and Space Forces Magazine, (Oct 1, 2008),

3. Joint Doctrine Note 1-19, (Washington, DC: The Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2019), 2,

Featured Image: June 23, 2022 – A PLA fighter jet in the course of conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a U.S. asset in the South China Sea, including by approaching a distance of just 40 feet before repeatedly flying above and below the U.S. aircraft and flashing its weapons. (U.S. INDOPACOM photo)

Warfighting Culture Starts with the CO

Flotilla Notes Series

By Jamie McGrath

Warfighting is as much a culture as it is an activity. To foster warfighting culture, commanders must include it in every aspect of their command – from training to administration to damage control to routine ship operations. Every aspect of shipboard life is connected to warfighting and therefore should be treated as such. This ethos begins with the commanding officer, but must also be embraced by the wardroom and the chief’s mess.

There are strategic documents that can help in this process – the CNO’s sailing directions or the SWO Boss’s “Competitive Edge” document for example. But these guides must be translated into the local activities of the command. This begins with a command philosophy that emphasizes warfighting – not as a footnote, but as a central theme throughout. Warfighting, however, goes beyond a well-crafted command philosophy. Warfighting must be stressed in everything the commander does – training, drills, zone inspections, Captain’s Calls, and even NJP. The command should always address the question – how does what we are doing right here and right now prepare this command for prompt and sustained combat at sea? If a command cannot effectively answer that question, then it may need to reexamine its priorities, or its leadership.

An oft-repeated but worthy example is CDR Ernest Evans’ preparation of USS Johnston (DD 557) for her deployment to the Pacific Theater of operations. CDR Evans’ commissioning remarks, almost a year before the ship’s heroic action at the Battle off Samar Island, were prophetic – “[T]his is going to be a fighting ship. I intend to go in harm’s way, and anyone who doesn’t want to go along had better get off right now.” These were not just hollow words or bravado. Evans meticulously prepared his ship and his crew so that when the call came, he and the crew of the Johnston, without hesitation, turned toward the enemy and attacked with all weapons despite insurmountable odds.

USS Johnston (DD-557) commissioning ceremony on the ship’s fantail at Seattle, Washington, 27 October 1943. Cmdr. Ernest E. Evans, commanding officer, was speaking in the left center. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command photograph)

Some would argue that it was easier to foster a warfighter mentality during a war, as Evans and his crew were in 1943-1944. But while the imperative for warfighting was more apparent then, it is no less real today. Combat systems drills, damage control drills, engineering casualty control drills, deck evolutions, watch team training, and preventative and corrective maintenance are the areas emphasized by wartime commanders, and they are areas of ship operation still in use today. Commands that go through the motions just to complete the minimum “required” training are missing the opportunity to inculcate a warfighting spirit. These events can and should be rigorous and warfighter-focused. And they should be ruthlessly critiqued so that lessons can be learned and applied.

Yes, there are a lot of distractions in today’s Navy that CDR Evans was not burdened with, but the imperative remains. Warfighting must be at the forefront of everything a command does, and that starts with the CO.

Capt. Jamie McGrath, USN (ret.), retired from the U.S. Navy after 29 years as a nuclear-trained surface warfare officer. He now serves as Director of the Major General W. Thomas Rice Center for Leader Development at Virginia Tech and an adjunct professor in the U.S. Naval War College’s College of Distance Education. He served in a variety of ship types and operational staff positions and commanded Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron Seven in Agana, Guam.

Featured Image: PEARL HARBOR (May. 22, 2015) Cmdr. Thomas Ogden, prospective commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93), passes through the sideboys during a change of command ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Diana Quinlan)

Flotilla Notes Series Kicks Off on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

Two years ago, CIMSEC launched an expansive new initiative the Warfighting Flotilla. In the Flotilla, warfighters and navalists come together to discuss naval warfighting, operational learning, and the state of the naval profession. Since its founding, this new naval professional society has grown to more than 450 members and hosted dozens of virtual discussions.

CIMSEC is launching a special series of short notes to commemorate the second anniversary of the Flotilla. Flotilla members were provided with a specific prompt: In 500 words or less, how can warfighting be better prioritized through deliberate management? What practical steps can leaders take to emphasize warfighting in their organizations? Members were encouraged to share their thoughts on how to translate a focus on warfighting first into tangible practices.

The featured authors are listed below, and we thank them for their contributions. Also see our upcoming Flotilla sessions for November, and visit the Flotilla homepage to join our growing membership and learn more about this community, its activities, and what drives it.

Warfighting Culture Starts with the CO,” by Jamie McGrath

Prepare for the Spectrum of Competition and Warfighting,” by Doug Kettler

Command by Example: Learning from San Jacinto’s War Council,” by Capt. Matthew Sharpe (ret.) and GSCM Rich Feldman (ret.)

Risk and Time: Calculating Tradeoffs in Warfighting Management,” by Barney Rubel

Focus Areas for Putting Warfighting First,” by CDR Paul Nickell

Streamline Certification and Leverage Lessons Learned,” by Tony Carrillo

Senior Leaders Must Own the Lack of Warfighting Focus,” by CDR Paul W. Viscovich, USN (ret.)

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content and Community Manager of the Flotilla. Contact him at

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (July 14, 2016) Sailors aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) fire an RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile during an international sinking exercise, or SINKEX, for Rim of the Pacific 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason Noble/Released)