Category Archives: Human Capital

Hard Truths: The Navy and Marines Need Another #MeToo Moment: Part Two

By Captain John P. Cordle, USN (Ret) and K. Denise Rucker Krepp

Part Two

In Part One we shared our experience and gave some interpretations of the data.* In this part we will finish that discussion and proceed to a set of recommendations. In the spirit of the discussion, it is important to understand that the trends are all heading in the wrong direction, indicating that policy and procedure changes are not enough. A culture change is required, starting at the unit level, if these trends are to be reversed. The following graph shows the magnitude of the problem, and the disturbing trend:

This chart of Sexual Assault events from the 2021 report shows quite clearly that the trend is in the wrong direction. (Source: FY21 DOD Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military).

5. Victims Bear a Heavy Burden
The IRC spoke with hundreds of survivors of sexual assault during the 90-Day review. One-on-one interviews and panel discussions brought to light the substantial burdens placed on victims as they navigated the military justice and health systems. Many survivors with whom the IRC spoke had dreamt their entire lives of a career in the military; in fact, they loved being in the military and did not want to leave, even after experiencing sexual assault or sexual harassment. But because their experience in the aftermath of the assault was handled so ineptly or met with hostility and retaliation, many felt they had no choice but to separate.

John: This echoes the case of my friend, who resigned from the Navy after nearly 10 years with the feeling – related to me directly – that she had no faith the system would change. The idea of psychological safety of the victim is huge and must be considered by leaders throughout the process. Again the DoD report is quite damning, showing that retribution and retaliation were found in 30 percent of cases – that means that someone who makes a report has a one-in-three chance of being retaliated against by the command or the alleged aggressor. I would never want my leadership to be characterized as “inept” – but the report found enough evidence to include this finding. Again, get out the mirror.

Denise: I have worked with both male and female sexual assault victims, including military and civilian. Service Academy students are nominated by Congressmembers to attend highly selective federal institutions. They have generally achieved high marks and excelled academically in high school to compete for the nomination. Most also excel in sports and extra-curricular activities to be competitive. They and their parents fill out mountains of paperwork and then they finally arrive at the school, full of dreams. Then reality sets in; I have seen their dreams of 20 years of service dashed by sexual assault. I have seen the tormented crying eyes of mothers and the rage-filled eyes of fathers, many of whom are alumni of the same institution.

When the military fails to help MST victims, the services also fail their parents. The failure is remembered and retold at family gatherings around the country. It is also told in videos, including the one that I watched at the new movie museum in Los Angeles. Every day, thousands of museum visitors learn about how the military failed to protect those who fought so hard to wear the uniform. If we want to look at why the military is having a recruiting problem, one place to start is the negative recruiting by those who recall a SASH event during their service – and tell their story. People do not want to join or stay in an organization where they are not respected.

6. Critical Deficiencies in the Workforce
The workforce dedicated to Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) is not adequately structured and resourced to do this important work. Many failures in prevention and response can be attributed to inexperienced lawyers and investigators, collateral-duty (part-time) SAPR victim advocates, and the near total lack of prevention specialists. These failures are not the fault of these personnel, but rather of a structure that de-emphasizes specialization and experience, which are necessary to address the complexities of sexual assault cases and the needs of victims.

John: You get what you pay for. Again there have been major steps taken in the past year to address these deficiencies, but if this is not the topic of a significant “Get Real Get Better” moment in the Pentagon then none such exists. One service member whom the author is mentoring received a letter at 180 days explaining that due to a backlog, her case – which was supposed to be adjudicated within 90 days – would take at least another 120 days – meanwhile she works at the same command with the alleged perpetrator, feeling that system has failed her – because it has. From collateral duty officers and chiefs with little training or motivation, to the oft-quoted dearth of mental health resources across the military, there is much to be done here. But what about the unit level? I submit that it is not OK to wait for the Navy to train thousands of counselors over the next few years. If you are in command today, take a personal interest in your staff and make sure that they have both the ability, the time, and the training to do the tough job of a sexual harassment (SH) or SAPR representative. Make sure that the available resources at the Fleet and Family Service Center are part of Command indoctrination, the command Facebook page, family support groups, and the sponsor program.

Denise: The critical deficiency I witnessed as a federal agency chief counsel and as a locally elected official was the lack of robust investigations and prosecutions. Prosecutors were not trained to prosecute the cases, were overworked and inexperienced, and found it easier to drop the case, claiming lack of evidence, than to do the work of studying the evidence and asking questions.

7. Outdated Gender and Social Norms Persist Across the Force
Although the military has become increasingly diverse, women make up less than 18 percent of the total force.4 With these dynamics, many women who serve report being treated differently than their male counterparts. In the IRC’s discussions with enlisted personnel, many Service women described feeling singled out or the subject of near daily sexist comments, as one of few women in their units.

John: Did you know that there are still several Navy ships with no female enlisted crew members? A recent photo of the senior Surface Warfare Flag Officers includes only two female Admirals. Diversity breeds inclusion – and a lack thereof does the opposite. The USMC lags the other services in female percentage by a significant margin, and yet are the apparent source of resistance to the Task Force One Navy recommendation to include RESPECT as a fourth core value. Unit leaders must look at their command through the eyes of the least represented and act accordingly. That said, it is also important to bear in mind that SH and SA are not restricted to a single gender and males can be targets as well, bringing a separate set of stigma and consequences for the victim, who may be labeled with a sexual orientation that is not their own due to the nature of the incident.

Denise: I served on active duty from 1992-2002. I left active duty because it was crystal clear at that time that I would not make Captain and Admiral. I was smart enough to become a senior leader but I was not going to be given the jobs that would make me eligible for them. I made this determination after talking with my father, a USMA grad who made 06 by the age of 40. He had seen combat in Vietnam and was a Ranger.

My generation of women were not eligible for career-enhancing combat jobs, so many of us left the service, which is why there are not that many female Admirals today – it literally takes a generation to change that. Women continued to leave in the 2000s because again, the jobs were not open to us and if they were, we were subjected to comments by senior leaders like “don’t go getting pregnant on me.” (that is sexual harassment, by the way.) There were also other obstacles like unwavering weight standards that had to be met after having children, hairstyles that caused our hair to fall out, and horrible uniform designs…Problems our male counterparts never had to overcome. But looming large was the ever-present threat of being sexually harassed – or worse – and having it be ignored.

8. Little is Known about Perpetration
The most effective way to stop sexual harassment and sexual assault is to prevent perpetration. However, the Department lacks sufficient data to make evidence-based decisions in this domain. As a result, the impact of prevention activities in military communities, particularly activities aimed at reducing perpetration, remains relatively unknown.

John: The most important role of the unit commander here is to properly investigate and report the data in a timely manner. One service member shared being told to “think twice” about making a report because “it would make the command look bad” – by the command equal opportunity counselor! This should never happen. Face the facts, do not shy away, and make the required reports, regardless of the consequences – it is the right thing to do. While training may inhibit sexual harassment through better education and intervention, sexual assault is a crime, and all the training in the world is not going to stop someone who is already so inclined. But proper training to recognize the signs of a bad trend can lead to more intervention and thus, hopefully, to prevention or at least prosecution. Sexual predators have no place in the military and should be excoriated as efficiently as possible.

Denise: The best way to stop SASH is to prosecute existing cases and publicize the outcomes. Publicize how offenders are sent to prison. Publicize the loss of retirement benefits. Publicize all cases regardless of rank. Make it clear that everyone is held to the same standard.

Additionally, every year Department of Defense employees are required to take sexual assault and sexual harassment training. My recommendation is to include information in the training on the number of reports received each year, the number of individuals prosecuted each year for sexual assault and the number of individuals successfully court martialed for sexual assault.

We usually end an article with a list of recommendations, but since we both agree with all of the IRC findings, we will simply list them here (below) while encouraging the reader to find and read the original report. Many of them are at the Big Navy level – but we would encourage the reader to point out to their leadership where these actions are not having the desired effect or fast enough – and to be a demanding customer.

Key Recommendations:

    1. Ensure Service members who experience sexual harassment have access to support services and care.
    2. Professionalize, strengthen, and resource the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response workforce across the enterprise.
    3. Improve the military’s response to domestic violence—which is inherently tied to sexual assault.
    4. Improve data collection, research, and reporting on sexual harassment and sexual assault to better reflect the experiences of Service members from marginalized populations—including LGBTQ+ Service members, and racial and ethnic minorities.
    5. Establish the DoD roles of the Senior Policy Advisor for Special Victims, and the DoD Special Victim Advocate.


    1. Create the Office of the Special Victim Prosecutor in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and shift legal decisions about prosecution of special victim cases out of the chain of command.
    2. Provide independent trained investigators for sexual harassment and mandatory initiation of involuntary separation for all substantiated complaints.
    3. Offer judge ordered military protective orders for victims of sexual assault and related offenses, enabling enforcement by civilian authorities.


    1. Equip all leaders with prevention competencies and evaluate their performance.
    2. Establish a dedicated primary prevention workforce.
    3. Create a state-of-the-art prevention research capability in DoD.

Climate and Culture

    1. Codify in DoD policy and direct the development of metrics related to sexual harassment and sexual assault as part of readiness tracking and reporting.
    2. Use qualitative data to select, develop, and evaluate the right leaders for Command positions.
    3. Apply an internal focus on sexual violence across the force in DoD implementation of the 2017 National Women, Peace, and Security Act.
    4. Fully execute on the principle that addressing sexual harassment and sexual assault in the 21st century requires engaging with the cyber domain.

Victim Care and Support

    1. Optimize victim care and support by establishing a full-time victim advocacy workforce outside of the command reporting structure.
    2. Expand victim service options for survivors by establishing and expanding existing partnerships with civilian community services and other Federal agencies.
    3. Center the survivor by maximizing their preferences in cases of expedited transfer, restricted reporting, and time off for recovery from sexual assault. 

That concludes the recommendations from the report. But it cannot end there. Only those in uniform can reverse this trend. That is our call to action.

Looking in the Mirror

One senior individual who read the draft of this article shared the idea that “nothing here is new,” citing Tailhook, Marines United, and other so-called “wake up calls” going back decades. Reports were filed, actions taken, briefs prepared – and yet here we are. Will it be different this time? Only we, the deck-plate leaders, can answer that question. In the end, we all want a workplace where we feel comfortable doing our jobs, and one where we would advise our children to join this organization. At a recent diversity symposium, a young Marine asked a retired General on the leadership panel “If I were your daughter – would you advise me to join the Military today?” There was a long and suspenseful pause before the answer came – which I will keep private – but the fact that the answer was not an immediate and resounding “yes!” speaks volumes. If we accept this condition then perhaps we are the problem. If we tolerate the occasional inappropriate comment, the sexist joke, the unwanted touch – we become complicit. Is it easier to just look away? Sure. But that is not what leaders do – good ones, anyway!

We encourage all leaders in the Navy and Marine Corps to read and truly digest both the 2021 DoD Sexual Harassment report and the IRC report. If you teach at a Navy schoolhouse, especially a leadership course, add these to the required reading list. You will be astounded and disappointed to learn that the trends are in the wrong direction almost across the board. These two documents are both authoritative and stunning – and yet many have not read them in the first place. Navy leaders at the upper levels are taking action, but as someone once posted on a USNI Blog feed a few years ago, “culture change does not happen by instruction or edict, but by the actions of each individual throughout the organization, on the deck plates, on a daily basis.” We firmly believe this to be true.

This is not just a CNO or SECNAV problem – they are taking action. It is your problem and our problem. And only we can solve it.

Have your own #MeToo moment.

John Cordle is a retired Navy Captain who commanded two warships, was awarded the Navy League John Paul Jones Award for Inspirational Leadership, and the 2019 US Naval Institute PROCEEDINGS Author of the Year.

K. Denise Rucker Krepp spent several years on active duty in the U. S. Coast Guard, graduated from the Naval War College, and served as Chief Counsel for the U.S Maritime Administration. Krepp also served as a locally elected Washington, DC official and Hill staffer. She is a longtime advocate for the rights of sexual assault and harassment victims.

*Correction: the Independent Review Committee was ordered by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, not SECNAV as we stated in Part 1.

Featured image: A Marine practices in front of the USS Green Bay (U.S. Navy photo by Markus Castaneda.)

Gapped Billet Squall on the Horizon: The USCG Officer Corps Could be in Trouble

By Joseph O’Connell

The Coast Guard is facing a looming afloat officer shortage with no good options on the table. With roughly 3.5%* of all CG officer billets currently gapped, and a particular shortfall impacting mid-grade (O3/O4) officers the Coast Guard needs to explore creative solutions to address the pending crisis. At the conclusion of assignment year 2021 (AY 21) the Coast Guard reported being 213 officers short, with a whopping 166 of those being O3 or O4’s, a growing shortfall of experience that cannot be easily resolved.1 While this might seem a rounding error to larger armed services, this represents a significant percentage of the Coast Guard officer corps. To put in context, if the U.S. Navy were facing a similar shortage, they would have gapped approximately 1,960 officer billets, a dearth that would undoubtedly impact operational readiness. This shortage grows more acute when considering the critical billets O3 and O4 officers fill aboard Coast Guard cutters: Operations Officers, Engineer Officers, Executive Officers, and Commanding Officers, depending on the cutter class.

Figure 1: Total Gapped Billets by Assignment Year. (Author graphic)

Utilizing the last 18 years of officer assignment data, a picture of a rapidly declining officers corps forms, with current trends indicating that implemented officer retention tools are failing1. Figure 1 shows the rapid increase in missing officers over time, highlighting the unique nature and acuteness of this particular crisis.1,2 As shown in Figure 2, the officer shortage is extremely concerning for the afloat community and was correctly predicted in 2015’s The Demise of the Cutterman2. Of note, AY21 was the highest number of afloat billets gapped, verifying the more pessimistic predictions made by CDR Smicklas. As the Coast Guard continues to bring new hulls online while operating legacy assets the demand for afloat officers will far outstrip the limited and dwindling supply, with projections anticipating a 25% increase in cutter billets from current levels.3

Figure 2: Gapped Afloat Billets by Assignment Year. Author graphic.

Armed with this knowledge, there are several options left to decision-makers. The readily apparent options, from least to most intrusive are: letting the crisis play out, ameliorating critical shipboard habitability shortfalls, prioritizing afloat officers, and major force restructuring.

Wait and See

The least intrusive option the Coast Guard could pursue is a “wait and see” strategy, wherein program managers would assess the impacts of current retention policies impacts on officer retention and the afloat billet gap. In its current form, this exclusively entails the recent afloat bonus program.5 It is possible that the afloat billet gap will shrink as more officers elect to return afloat in pursuit of bonus money or career path incentives (arguably not the right reasons to go afloat).

There is a historical argument in favor of waiting as well, traditionally during economic boom cycles the service has difficulty retaining officers, while during economic downturns the officer corps is closer to full strength, this can be seen in the years following the great financial crisis when the officer billet gap was greatly reduced, only to steadily rise as the economy rebounded in the mid-2010s.9 Just as a prudent mariner would not hazard their vessel based on scanty radar information, Coast Guard programmers and planners cannot place bets on the future of the service based on unknowable economic outlooks. This strategy runs the risk of inaction and a deepening crisis while maintaining current priorities in hopes that new assets will alleviate habitability issues and that afloat bonuses will deepen the afloat talent pool. 8 If an economic crisis fails to materialize, or the officer corps reacts differently than during a financial crisis there is a chance that this strategy fails catastrophically and the afloat gap grows, adversely impacting operations.

Prioritize “Sea Service Attractiveness”


The next actionable item the Coast Guard can pursue to mitigate the exodus of afloat officers is prioritizing sea service attractiveness. By and large, this falls into two buckets: 1) addressing egregious shipboard habitability issues and 2) “nice to have” incentives such as Wi-Fi, preserving port calls, and reduced work days. On the latter measure, the Coast Guard has made significant investments in UW connectivity and bandwidth.

These creature comforts do not, unfortunately, extend to legacy Coast Guard assets, namely the Famous and Reliance class, medium endurance cutters, which suffer from debilitating habitability issues. These issues range from the whimsical– water intrusion flooding staterooms every time it rains to such an extent that it was re-christened “the waterfall suite,”—to the downright dangerous 2 ft. diameter holes hidden by appliances such as laundry machines or controllable pitch propeller systems that rely on emergency relief valves to regulate system pressures. Furthermore, it is not uncommon in the medium endurance cutter fleet to hear sea stories of tools falling into the bilge and puncturing the hull.

Compounded, these unappetizing work environments significantly diminish the already austere nature of serving aboard ship. These unfortunate conditions are the result of years of policy decisions de-emphasizing legacy asset sustainment in favor of other priorities, with newer hulls promising to resolve habitability issues once online. Building new cutters has taken longer than anticipated and legacy medium endurance cutters, the bulk of the Coast Guard Atlantic Area’s forward operating assets, are now expected to operate for another 5-15 years4. Given this timeline, one “down payment” the Coast Guard can make for the health of its future afloat officer corps, is addressing the dire habitability issues aboard its medium endurance cutters. Paired with the “nice to have” initiatives, such as shipboard Wi-Fi, money spent on increasing the attractiveness of sea duty could pay significant dividends in the years to come. 

The Coast Guard should increase habitability and work-life balance, through major investments throughout the fleet, particularly in the Medium Endurance Cutter (MEC) fleet. Some easy actions to take would be increasing cutter maintenance budgets to repair long overdue crew comfort issues, earmarking funds to upgrade or install rec/morale equipment that can be used underway, increasing maintenance periods to promote work-life balance, and decreasing the amount of homeport maintenance work completed by the crew. While none of these are ‘free’ and come with associated costs (funds being taken from other priorities, reduced operational time, more workload for shoreside maintenance units, etc.), they are worthwhile to explore in order to avert a major afloat staffing issue.


If sea duty attractiveness is increased, then an organic shift in officer billet preferences may occur and naturally fill the afloat gap. Increasing sea duty attractiveness is complex and difficult, and a myriad of solutions are currently being explored by the Coast Guard, namely afloat department head and XO bonuses5. Given that these bonuses may not prove to be effective the Coast Guard should be investigating additional incentives, starting with the least desirable afloat units. While monetary incentives through bonuses are very cogent, additional incentives could also be explored, such as offering geographically stable follow-on tours, weighing sea time when considering candidates for post-graduate studies, or more drastically increasing promotability for afloat officers. While none of these is a panacea for increasing sea duty desirability, these among other proposals should be explored.

Select and Direct

The proverbial easy button is to simply fill all afloat billets at the expense of the other communities, forcing sector officers, aviators, and support officers to be chronically understaffed while mandating that all afloat billets be filled. While this solution is theoretically easy to implement from a policy perspective, it may backfire as other operational and support communities suffer more acutely under staffing shortages, degrading joint mission capabilities and depleting the CG ‘brand’. More concerning is forcing officers into billets they have no interest (or expertise) in, leading to dissatisfaction at work, poor performance, and incompetence, all of which can congeal into toxic workplace environments aboard cutters, exacerbating the cutterman shortage through a vicious cycle. However, if afloat billets are prioritized while taking concrete steps to promote afloat habitability and work-life balance, there could be a natural shift in billet preference among the officer corps.

Prioritizing afloat billets at the expense of other communities puts ‘butts in seats’, averting the critical crisis of a rapidly dwindling afloat officer corps, but is not a sustainable long-term solution. It is worth noting, a solution that quickly closes the afloat officer gap while incentivizing officers to return afloat still proves elusive, as the Coast Guard started utilizing monetary incentives over the past 2 assignment years without tangibly reducing either the pending staffing shortage or reducing the number of ‘afloat’ billets gapped.1

Major Overhaul

Finally, if the Coast Guard is unable or unwilling to fill billets and can still meet its statutory mission objectives, it could pursue more extreme options involving a major force restructure of officer billets. This restructuring could take multiple forms, including heavier reliance upon automation technology, reducing afloat officer billets, replacing officers with senior enlisted, reducing shoreside support billets, and mandating additional rotations into the cutter fleet. Each of these solutions harbors unique pitfalls.

A forward-looking solution is to reduce officer manning on future platforms such as the OPC, while simultaneously reducing officer billets on existing high-technology platforms, such as the WMSLs and HEALY. Given that industry vessels operate with manning in the teens for similarly sized vessels, it is entirely feasible to sail Coast Guard cutters with a fraction of the existing billet structure. These vessels rely heavily upon automation technology such as machinery control software (MCS) and utilize a different maintenance philosophy that emphasizes heavy depot periods and limited organization (crew) level maintenance6. However, by doing this the Coast Guard would accept significantly increased operating risks (by reducing organic crew casualty response capabilities), reduced operational effectiveness (fewer personnel to staff operational missions, such as law enforcement teams, migrant watchstanders, or defense missions) a reduced talent pool, among other serious consequences. Over-reliance on technology to reduce manning has proven troublesome in the recent past (see LCS and original WMSL manning concepts), and current automatic control systems do not replace a trained technician. 7

Another major restructuring action would be to fill O3 and O4 billets with more junior (to the billet) officers or senior enlisted personnel. While pursuing either action would serve as a temporary salve, both options harbor risk, officers junior to the traditional grade may lack the appropriate experience to serve as an Operations Officer or Executive Officer for example. Meanwhile, filling junior officer billets with qualified warrant officers or senior enlisted personnel stymies the training pipeline for future commanding officers.

A final drastic option would be to reduce current staff, support, and other non-afloat billets for critical pay grades and enforce an afloat tour requirement at those grades. While a guaranteed way to fill vital afloat jobs, this could have cascading effects on the afloat community, and the officer corps writ large. Reducing the number of support billets could degrade the quality of cutter support and sea duty attractiveness may suffer. This move could lead to an exodus of officers who joined the Coast Guard for different reasons than pursuing a career afloat.

Similar to ‘prioritizing the cutterman’, this would reduce the afloat officer gap, but may end up damaging the officer corps more than it helps. On the surface, alternative solutions are capable of solving the afloat officer gap, but a quick analysis reveals that they would have significant costs that may outweigh their benefits.

Shoal Water on Port and Starboard

On paper there are a variety of straightforward solutions to reduce the U.S. Coast Guard’s afloat and overall officer shortage, including leaning into automation/optimization technology, replacing current afloat officer billets with senior enlisted or more junior officers, restructuring the support officer billets and forcing pay grades to go afloat. Unfortunately, all of these solutions have deleterious consequences that increase the risks of operational units, (while decreasing effectiveness), and potentially damage the long-term health of the Coast Guard officer corps.

To avoid the worst of these consequences, the “least bad” option for the Coast Guard is to prioritize cuttermen and fill afloat billets at the expense of other officer specialties, while simultaneously increasing sea duty attractiveness to mitigate the consequences of selecting and directing. These measures are contingent upon increasing cutter habitability and sea duty attractiveness. Here, the Coast Guard must look to the least habitable cutters —the medium endurance cutter fleet— and work to make these units more desirable by increasing crew comfort underway and maximizing homeport downtime.

Lieutenant Joseph O’Connell is a port engineer for the medium-endurance cutter product line, tasked with planning and managing depot maintenance on five Famous-class cutters. He previously served in USCGC Healy (WAGB-20) as a student engineer and USCGC Kimball (WSML-756) as the assistant engineer officer. He graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 2015 with a degree in mechanical engineering and from MIT in 2021 with a double master’s of science in naval architecture and mechanical engineering.

These views are presented in a personal capacity and do not necessarily represent the official views of any U.S. government department or agency.

Note: due to the opaque nature of available billet vacancies, vacant afloat billets may not be true shipboard assignments, afloat training organization (ATO), select CG-7 jobs and others may be coded as “afloat,” obfuscating the true shortage.

*3.5% was calculated in the following manner: (Total # of officers-total gapped billets)/(total # of officers). This formula assumes there are no over-billeted positions, which is not entirely accurate, but serves as a decent proxy. 


1. Assignment Year Data from Coast Guard Messages: ALCGOFF 142/04, 062/05, 048/06, 048/07, 082/08, 072/09, 064/10, 038/11, 030/12, 029/13, 025/14, 025/15, 043/16, 057/17, 032/18, 061/19, 068/20, 048/21, 023/22

2. Demise of the Cutterman, CDR Smicklas,

3. State of the CG 2021,

4. Report to Congress on CG Procurement, April 2022,

5. All Coast Notice: 105/20 Officer Afloat Intervention

6. CFR 46 Part 15:

7. Unplanned costs of unmanned fleet, Jonathan Panter, Jonathan Falcone,

8. Federal Reserve, Financial and Macroeconomic Indicators of Recession Risk, June 2022;



Featured Image: A member of Maritime Security Response Team West watches as a Sector San Diego MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter approaches the flight deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Waesche (WMSL 751) cutter off the coast of San Diego, March 29, 2023. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Taylor Bacon)

Hard Truths: The Navy and Marines Need Another #MeToo Moment: Part One

By Captain John P. Cordle, USN (ret.) and K. Denise Rucker Krepp

Hard Truths. This article is a collaboration between two authors with very different experiences, in the hopes that some combination of their views – one as a former Commanding Officer and the other as a federal agency chief counsel with 30-plus years of Sexual Assault/Harassment (SASH) experience – will resonate and drive tough conversations among mid-grade leaders. The Department of Defense has received over 65,000 reports of sexual assault since 2010 and each of us has a role in holding individuals who commit sexual assault and sexual harassment accountable for past crimes and creating an environment where sexual assault and sexual harassment are not tolerated.

Part One

Denise: Nine years ago, I testified before the Congressionally mandated Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel. My 2014 testimony was based on my experiences as a Coast Guard JAG and Chief Counsel, US Maritime Administration (MARAD). I was invited to testify after writing a September 2013 article for Roll Call entitled “Female Military Personal Aren’t Whores.” I wrote the Roll Call essay after reading Washington Post articles about a USNA female student who was sexually assaulted. She was required to tell defense attorneys in court whether or not she felt like a whore, how she performed oral sex, and whether or not she wore underwear to a party. That line of questioning was demeaning, and offensive. I was appalled that not a single Department of Defense (DoD) leader expressed outrage, so I put pen to paper.

A few months after I wrote the article, I was invited to testify in a closed-door, no press allowed hearing. In my January 2014 testimony, I spoke about the sexual harassment I had seen as a young Coast Guard officer. I also told the panelists about the Inspector General investigation that I requested in 2011 after being notified of numerous sexual assaults occurring at sea and at the US Merchant Marine Academy. I was serving as the MARAD Chief Counsel at that time, and shortly after requesting the investigation I was directed to resign or be fired. The panelists asked if I was ever aware of an illegal order. “Yes,” I responded, “Secretary of Transportation LaHood told Deputy Secretary of Transportation Porcari to fire me because I had asked for the sexual assault investigation.” But retaliation is illegal, is it not? And yet…

John. Two years ago, I assisted a young officer in drafting an article in which she told her story of how the system had failed her personally and professionally as a victim and as a Sexual Assault Prevention Representative (SAPR) for a staff. She advocated for change, especially the idea that the investigation process should be separated from the chain of command. This proposal was widely panned by senior leaders, as such a change would undermine the “sanctity of command.” She finally withdrew the article, despite it being selected for publication, because it was simply too painful and too personal.

To her credit, the idea did go forward and (I believe) contributed to the conversations that led to major changes in the treatment of sexual harassment and sexual assault investigations. Then something important happened – the DoD 2021 Annual Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment1 revealed some very troubling data and findings, resulting in the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) directing an independent committee to produce a report entitled Hard Truths and A Duty to Changewhich essential repeated almost everything in my friend’s prescient white paper. Unfortunately one year later, many leaders do not appear to have read these documents. This article is an attempt to bring these findings to a larger, more junior audience along with a deck plate leadership perspective. Their words are included verbatim for one reason – they are profound and hard-hitting, requiring no amplification. A photographic from the DoD report is shown here:

Figure 1. Summary of DoD Sexual Assault Report for 2021(Source: DoD FY21 SA Report). USC = Unwanted Sexual Contact.

To bring this graphic closer to home, imagine you are in a room with 100 Sailors and Marines. You ask, “How many of you have been sexually harassed this year?” Twenty-nine raise their hands. “How many were sexually assaulted?” Nine raise their hands. Of these 38 people, you ask, “Keep your hand up if you were unsatisfied with the support you received?” Eighteen raise their hands. “Keep your hand up if you were retaliated against?” Nine hands stay in the air. The room falls silent, and everyone is looking at you. Look them in the eye. What do you say to them?

Common Themes: the following are provided verbatim (italicized portion) from the DoD report, followed by our respective comments.

1. Broken Trust – When it comes to sexual assault and harassment, the Independent Review Commission (IRC) concluded that there is a wide chasm between what senior leaders believe is happening under their commands, and what junior enlisted Service members actually experience. This is true across the enterprise. As a result, trust has been broken between commanders and the Service members under their charge and care.

John: Those are incredibly strong and damning words. They tell us what many junior personnel routinely tell us via Command Climate and other surveys, and told Task Force One Navy. That statement should drive leaders at all levels to take a long look in the mirror – and do something about it. More on that later.

Denise: In 2009, MARAD surveyed students at the US Merchant Marine Academy about sexual harassment and assault. We learned that students arrived at the school trusting school leaders to properly address sexual assault allegations. Per the survey results, the students did not have that same level of trust by the time they became seniors. Something clearly happened in three years to break their trust.

I thought back to that lack of trust when notified in 2010 of a possible sexual assault at Kings Point. I asked to talk with the student and the student declined to talk with me, the agency chief counsel, because the student did not trust the agency to properly address the crime.

I spoke about the lack of trust when I testified twice in 2014 before the Congressionally mandated Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel and again in 2019 at a US Commission on Civil Rights hearing about sexual assault in the federal government. The gist of my testimony was that the lack of trust in the system – and its leaders–creates a toxic environment that is harmful to victims. To read the same thing in 2021 was, to say the least, disheartening, and deeply disappointing.

2. Leadership is Paramount Preventing, responding to, and supporting Service members who are the victims of demeaning language, sexual harassment, and sexual assault is a command responsibility. Commanders must be held accountable for their unit climates and for their action—or inaction—when it comes to protecting their people.

John: This is a stark reminder that this is not a SECNAV or Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) issue. This is directed at the unit commander, the Command Master Chief, even the Department Head, Division Officer, and Leading Chief Petty Officer. Think back over the past year. Have you repeated, instigated, or ignored an off-color joke, a sexist or racist remark directed at one peer by another, or even worse, from a supervisor at a subordinate? Have you engaged your junior personnel about the work environment they face each day? Have you been guilty of looking away when your best performers step over the line? If so, look in the mirror, ask yourself “am I doing enough?” and act.

Denise: Last fall, I gave a SASH lecture at the U.S. Naval War College. I shared how sexual assault is a leadership issue, one that leaders have to address head on and not ignore. Ignoring SASH creates a toxic environment, one that encourages other negative – and sometime illegal – behavior. During my visit, U.S. Naval War College professors shared that sexual harassment and sexual assault are becoming common topics in class and students are advocating for more discussion on the issue. Students want to talk about the problem because they want to be ready to address it when they take command. This was actually quite encouraging to hear – their proactive requests for help should be encouraged.

3. The Military Justice System is Not Equipped to Properly Respond to Special Victim Crimes
Special victim crimes disproportionately impact certain victims because of who they are, or what motivated the crime. These crimes are often interpersonal in nature, in which the victim and the alleged offender may have a pre-existing relationship or acquaintance. Special victims—particularly survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence—deserve all critical decisions about their case to be made by a highly trained special victim prosecutor who is independent from the chain of command.

John: This finding is a slap in the face of the “Big Navy” as reflected in the 2021 DoD report where only 60 percent of those reporting an incident were satisfied with the way it was handled. Another damning statement—and percentage. To their credit, SECNAV has made drastic changes in policy and process, including to separate the investigative process from the chain of command, to not prosecute the alleged victim for minor offenses, and to fund a cadre of investigators and counselors to improve the system. Is that enough? Not yet, but these are the largest steps in decades and a credit to the current leadership. At the unit level leaders must ensure that professional help is available and is used as soon as possible, and sound the alarm if it is not available.

One huge gap as noted in the report is in the cyber domain, where bullying and threats on social media are often considered outside the jurisdiction of the command, especially if cross command, and the rules governing this area are practically nonexistent – inexcusable in today’s day and age. Threatening or body shaming another service member on social media is not “free speech” and urgent action is required in this arena.

Denise: I have been part of the SASH community for 30 years. I have seen firsthand the trauma to victims, their families, their neighbors, their co-workers. Sexual assault is crime that haunts people for decades and each person reacts differently to the crime.

Training to help a sexual assault victim cannot happen via PowerPoint. Neither is it a one-day or one-week course. It takes months and, I would argue, years to fully train personnel to help sexual assault victims.

In Fiscal Year 2021, the Department of Defense was notified of 8,866 sexual assaults. Victims are reading the annual reports, they know the number of cases filed, and they are watching to see how many of these cases are prosecuted. A sizable number of the assault cases didn’t result in prosecution in 2021 and in past years. I encourage military leaders to ask why cases aren’t prosecuted. Victims won’t trust the “system” if the cases before theirs aren’t prosecuted, and absent trust, victims won’t report the crimes committed against them.

Lastly, I supported the recent changes removing the chain of command from prosecution because, as I painfully learned as MARAD Chief Counsel, the chain of command is often part of the issue and may not always support prosecutions.

4. Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Exist on a Continuum of Harm
Sexual assault does not stand alone, but rather exists on a continuum of harm which may begin with sexual harassment and escalate into sexual assault. This is particularly true in the military, where survivors of sexual harassment are at significantly higher risk of later experiencing sexual assault. To think of them as two separate problem sets is to fundamentally misunderstand the challenge the Department–and the force–face, especially with regard to unit climates.

John: I once heard a very senior SAPR officer, when asked about a sexual harassment issue, state that “that is not in my lane.” He later retracted the statement, but it is reflective of a system that treats the two as separate problems. It is still a weakness in these programs that at most levels they are tracked and reported by different people at the command, with little data sharing or recognition that the two are intrinsically related. The 2021 report stated that in commands where sexual harassment is tolerated, there is a fourfold greater change of sexual assault. Again, for the reader at the command level, it is imperative to look at these two issues together and holistically. In this author’s opinion, the Navy and Marines have work to do here at the higher echelons, but that should not stop all leaders from taking a fresh look at the data and engaging their wardroom and Chief Petty Officer (CPO) mess.

Denise: Sexual harassment and sexual assault are not separate in the eyes of the victim and they should not be separate in the eyes of leaders. To treat them separately is to facilitate both, and it shows in the numbers. To put it bluntly, if leaders do not stop sexual harassment, why should victims think that they will stop sexual assault?

Read Part Two.

John Cordle is a retired Navy Captain who commanded two warships, was awarded the Navy League John Paul Jones Award for Inspirational Leadership, and the 2019 US Naval Institute Proceedings Author of the Year.

K. Denise Rucker Krepp spent several years on active duty in the U. S. Coast Guard, graduated from the Naval War College, and served as Chief Counsel for the U.S Maritime Administration. Krepp also served as a locally elected Washington, DC official and Hill staffer. She is a longtime advocate for the rights of sexual assault and harassment victims.


[1] Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, 2021

[2] Independent Review Commission Recommendations on Countering Sexual Assault in the Military, 21 July 2021

Featured Image: 190119-N-KW492-1054 MANAMA, Bahrain (April 11, 2019) Capt. Jason Rimmer, commanding officer of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), speaks to the crew during an all hands call on the flight deck. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryre Arciaga/Released)

Learning to Get Real and Get Better: A Conversation with Learning Leaders

“History shows the navy which adapts, learns, and improves the fastest gains an enduring warfighting advantage. The essential element is fostering an ecosystem—a culture—that assesses, corrects, and innovates better than the opposition.”—Admiral Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, remarks at 2022 Surface Navy Association Symposium

Assembled and edited by notetakers Professor Mie Augier and Maj Gen (Ret.) William F. Mullen, USMC.

Learning is an important topic. The increasing pace of change in the operating environment, as well as the evolving requirements of leading each new generation that comes of age, makes both individual and organizational learning essential. At the same time, dedicated time for learning may be missing, or the desire for continued learning is lacking. But it can be reawakened through learning about learning itself, and discussing the need for both individual and organizational learning for warfighters.

The CNO’s recent initiative of “Get Real, Get Better” (GRGB) touches on the importance of learning on several levels. Learning is difficult and often painful as it involves transformation and change, and is not just something that one can put on “like a new suit,” as Mortimer Adler wrote in his classic piece, “Invitation to the Pain of Learning.” The emphasis in GRGB on taking hard honest looks at our performance and to have the courage to take the steps to improve have resonated well with the recent iteration of our Naval Postgraduate School course, “Maneuver Warfare for the Mind: The Art and Science of Interdisciplinary Learning for Innovation and Warfighting Leaders.” We sat down with a handful of students/learning leaders to listen to their reflections on the topic and how learning about learning itself can help us get real and get better as warfighters and warfighting organizations.1

The course starts with understanding the ‘why’ of learning, the need to exercise our minds, and embracing the pain along the way. It approaches learning as a manifestation of Marine General Al Gray’s approach to “maneuver warfare,” and as a mindset that is relevant across industries, organizations, services, and warfighter topics. We focus on different dimensions and elements of learning, such as the mechanisms for individual learning, organizational learning, learning organizations, and some of the key tradeoffs between refining existing competencies and exploring and experimenting for new ones.2 We use a broad set of interdisciplinary as well as warfighter-oriented readings ranging from Mortimer Adler’s ‘How to Read a Book,’ Herbert Simon, James March, General Gray, Secretary Mattis, Colonel John Boyd, and other articles on behavioral strategy, organizational learning, and counterfactuals.

We believe that active minds are best developed through active learning, and not lecturing and rote learning (no PowerPoints). That too was something emphasized in Gen Gray’s approach to learning and education, and we try to honor that by facilitating discussion through questions, small groups, and relating scholarly material to warfighter issues. As a result, we studied and learned from Gen Gray’s leadership and the maneuver warfare movement not just as an important episode in USMC institutional history, but also an approach to thinking, leading, and learning that can be useful to help evolve current initiatives (such as GRGB) into something that can have lasting impact on how our organizations think, learn, and fight.3

In the conversation below, our learning leaders reflected on aspects of what we studied and discussed in the course; such as different mechanisms and levels of learning, some links between individual and organization learning, the role of leaders in facilitating both, and how learning is essential to ‘get real, get better.’

What is your main takeaway about the importance of learning at the individual level and how it can help us become better learning leaders? How does that help us ‘get real’?

Individual learning becomes a building block for the organization. If learning is inculcated on an individual basis, it is more likely that the organization can become a learning organization. However, while individual learning is important, it is not the only thing needed. The organization has to provide the space, time, and opportunity for the individuals to be learners. And specific to Navy or military bureaucracies as a whole, there has to be a culture to allow for learning, innovation and innovative thinking, and the status quo needs to have less of a hold on progress. The status quo can be an inhibitor of innovation and of change in general.

Another takeaway is the role of the leader as a teacher. You cannot teach if you do not have a desire to learn, understand the mechanisms of how people learn, and more importantly for the sake of the organization, you need to understand how to help others be lifelong learners. That is really important because in organizations like the Navy and Marine Corps that are multi-tiered and stratified, the one thing you can find that will bind us all together as a learning organization is to cultivate this in future leaders/teachers. This is an example of something that links individual learners/leaders to building learning in others and a broader learning culture as well.

It is not enough to say you are a learning organization – you have to learn how to learn, and you have to learn to teach how to learn. That is a mechanism for how our approach to learning as individuals can help transmit and transform the organization into a learning organization.

We feel strongly that the role of the organization is essential. That is not specific to learning only – but to everything since the leader drives where the organization is going. We also saw that in some of the cases we discussed in class and some of the guest speakers. Boyd did that; Gen Zinni did that; Gen Gray too. All of those leaders offer examples of people in key positions deliberately driving change and learning in their own way.

There are important traits and skills that characterize learning leaders. It takes vulnerability to push folks beyond their comfort zone, to admit they may not know something, or to be willing to ask for another’s advice. It can also take vulnerability to stand up for learning efforts, especially when their takeaways challenge the norm. We discussed Gen Grays emphasis on “we,” not “me,” which is one manifestation of humility. How do you see the roles of humility, vulnerability, and courage in learning?

We better understood that through one of the readings, the Levinthal and March reading.4 In their article they are looking at learning at the individual level, and how that has implications for the organizational level. They are also looking at the cultural and social aspects for why learning fails or does not always succeed. That could be due to friction between people; people being too focused on themselves and not the organizations; and the myopias of learning.

It is also connected to the idea of satisficing – that we are often satisfied with the minimum solution, or what is good enough, to be effective. We also probably over-attribute success (or failure) to particular events or people. What if the success or failure was just by chance? What happened, and how much of that was attributed to things we were doing intentionally, and how much of that was influenced by chance? It involves self-awareness and comfort with uncertainty. Too often people and organizations attribute success or failure to efforts, mainly individual efforts, that may not have much to do with the actual causes. The “Myopia of Learning” article speaks to that in a great way. Admitting that you as a leader may not be the source of all great things involves some humility as well.

At a deeper level, it also relates to the idea of moral courage as a leader and that revolves around humility and vulnerability. Humility is difficult to teach, but it might be easier if you engage in a conversation about vulnerability as well. There have been leaders who lead with the statement, “I will confide in you something that I wouldn’t tell anyone else, and you do the same.” It is a challenge because it relies on trusting someone you may not know well. So vulnerability here builds trust. And that is part of the fuel that gets to learning.

Modeling learning behavior is critical, like with any other favorable leadership trait. To be a leader you need to be willing to be vulnerable, not only for accepting outside criticism, but also to be self-critical. As you embark on Senge’s concept or discipline of personal mastery, it is a journey that is ongoing and you never fully arrive at the destination. We can tie in a little bit of Boyd as well. A lot of folks naturally start the OODA loop with the first part, the observation. But once you delve into it you realize that you never take off on the OODA loop unless you get the orientation right, the part where you consider the implications of your observations. And orientation is itself its own OODA loop that is built on things like culture, norms, shared values, and others. But through observation from other parties and your own self-observation you are able to change that orientation. This then changes the nature of the OODA loop and how you perceive the environment, decide, and act.

As a leader, what we talked about regarding vulnerability, humility, and values, if you tie it back to Boyd, you are hitting the center of the orientation piece and the necessity of you as a leader to really understand yourself. A leader has to have the self-awareness to understand their strengths and shortcomings, while actively striving toward personal mastery so that they can make better decisions, and they can model better learning behaviors for those they lead.

How can learning help the Navy “get real, get better,” and what are the difficulties in creating learning organizations? Is there anything from the course that would be particularly useful to share? What would we do to help make it more like a movement, like MW/FMFM-1 Warfighting?

You can take a page out of General Dempsey’s “Mission Command,” and you have intent, trust, and communication. This helps with explaining the importance of learning, not just for learning’s sake, but for the mission and the organization, a point Gen Gray made in the maneuver warfare panel we discussed. This would ideally guide you as a leader and your colleagues to foster an environment where people have your intent and your trust. Trust is defined here as the absence of fear of humiliation, mocking, or ridicule, including for wanting to learn something new or pursue a novel idea. Once you have that environment, a leader can embrace those efforts, including those trying to understand what is wrong and develop solutions.

If you as a leader do not foster an environment where people can think outside the box – can think beyond the NAVADMINS and instructions and guidelines – then you are going to struggle to explain the orientation part of your thought process. You are going to struggle to think differently. If a leader does not foster trust, adequately communicate their intent, and foster an environment where people are not afraid to explore beyond the conventional boundaries, then they will struggle to develop creative solutions. It is not enough to say we need to harness constructive failures. We have to be able to create an environment where people are not afraid to explore beyond the boundaries of what they would normally do or think about. You will struggle to get to the creative solutions GRGB is aiming for without that organizational environment. GRGB is both about individual-level traits and approaches, but definitely organizational culture as well.

Boyd was able to use the bureaucracy against itself at times. The true secret is to reward the behavior you want and carefully manage the incentives. A perfect example for the U.S. Navy is this – I came across a NAVADMIN that completely rewrote the definitions for performance evaluations, and it put out exactly what should be ranked in terms of efforts to create and sustain a learning environment at both the individual level, in the workspace, at the organizational level, across the U.S. Navy. We saw this document come out – and be completely ignored – and then we had the perfect opportunity where the performance evaluation system was completely revised. Now we have gone from navfit98 to eNAVFIT online. Lo and behold, all of that wonderful criteria that was supposed to evaluate me on how good I am as a personal learner and how good I am at getting those under my charge to be learners – it evaporated overnight! How can we get better in building more lasting changes? It needs to be pushed within the bureaucracy itself, we need it to be sustained, unlike the implication of that NAVADMIN, unfortunately.

Another problem is leadership turnover. Leaders often want to put their mark on things and change things just for the sake of change. But they often rotate out of the position after so little time in the seat that things can rarely be sustained, or rarely do leaders have to live with the possible consequences of their initiatives, and the cycle repeats with turnover.5 So we need to help build a sustainable vision and change how the organization thinks, so it becomes embedded in our overall approach, much like the Marines and Gen Gray did with FMFM-1 Warfighting.6

What do you see as barriers to GRGB?

I think if you survey all members of the Navy, most would want the organization to become a learning organization where they can have time for personal learning, have the room and freedom to think, and they want to become deeper learners themselves. But it is hard. Learning is painful as we discussed in class, and it needs to be. On the organizational level, it is often everyone else’s fault for why it doesn’t happen. Because of the Navy mentality and what is valued, certainly in the officer corps it is often about FITREPs and promotion. No one is going to make the push that is needed when it may be seen as professionally risky. In other words, there can be a mentality of, ‘The system that promoted me can’t be wrong,’ but the GRGB initiative could change what the system values in people.

The Marines seem to have done a decent job at reversing some of these trends, both historically with the reforms Gen Gray lead, but also more recently. They seem to be at least trying to build an organization that embraces learning and exploration, with MCDP-1 Warfighting and the recent publication of MCDP-7 Learning really demonstrating that. Not having as much funding and having different challenges might have helped. We could learn something from how the Marine Corps institutionalized the emphasis on thinking and learning with FMFM-1 early on and the value of lifelong learning it embodied.7 It doesn’t cost money to think as Gen Gray reminds us.

Some of the recommendations in the Education for Seapower study can address these themes if we applied them. These include an organizational emphasis to developing learning and thinking as part of the culture and the ethos of the organization. It includes emphasizing this in the key documents which the organization derives guidance from over time, not just in a set of instructions that are changed tomorrow. The Navy hasn’t done that.

In the Navy we are so focused on our communities and too focused on depth, and unwilling to accept breadth in knowledge and proficiency, that we sort of get in our own way. We focus so much on operating our highly technical platforms that it signals to people that this is all we really care about. But what do you do in your free time, what do you do to educate your mind? What do you do officially, formally, organizationally to enhance learning for yourself and your command beyond the baseline standards?

What can we do to help GRGB become more of a movement and build it into our organizations?

We saw examples of the mentoring process in class and having a dialogue about the purpose, where to get more information, and how it can be implemented. Taking the time to discuss and share the ideas behind the GRGB initiative is essential and can help build excitement for it as well.

But it is really about renovating or transforming organizational culture and that is very difficult. The pamphlet and training package is good in providing some structure and training for how to deliver GRGB. But what they don’t really get at is where does it go from here, what is the follow-through? Who does this? What is the qualification? Where do we do this? There is nothing that says this is part of our organizational DNA now, as MCDP-1 is for the USMC. So as far as you can help make GRGB be part of the organization, you have to make it an agent of change, to make it something that is genuinely embraced by the organization, not just printed by the organization.

There are things happening at a high level now that supports making it a movement, such as mandatory GRGB training for flag officers, and the fact that it is a warfighting enabler is important. The Navy respects and acts upon what is written in ink. If it is not in ink then it is less likely to care. This spans from completing a travel voucher, to performance evaluations and other things. We need to have that hard document that I can wave and say, ‘This is why we are doing this, because this is directive, this is official.’ That is when it will really start to take hold.

The idea of publishing an FMFM-1/MCDP-1-type document for the Navy is key. It can become something the organization embraces as a sign of it becoming a deeper learning organization. It can be something that is foundational to new and experienced members of the organization, and part of who we all are and how we learn. An outline for an MCDP-1 type document might be a good start to at least start the conversation and discuss the benefits of a more structured organizational movement.

We look forward to you writing that!

Commander (Dr.) Art Valeri is an Operative Dentist stationed at NMRTC Great Lakes serving as the Department Head/Chief, Dental Service of the Veterans and Military Staff Hospital Dental Clinic, Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, North Chicago, IL.

Commander Paul Nickell is a Naval Flight Officer currently stationed at the United States Naval War College as a student in the College of Naval Warfare in Newport Rhode Island and an MBA Candidate at the Naval Postgraduate School. 

Captain Daniel G. Betancourt is a career Foreign Area Officer and Naval Aviator specializing in Latin America and the Indo-Pacific. He currently serves as Chief of the United States Naval Mission to Colombia.

Commander (Dr.) Jay Yelon is a US Navy Trauma Surgeon currently stationed at the military-civilian partnership at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.


1. The course, inspired by Gen Gray’s approach to thinking and learning, utilizes organizational documents, scholarly articles as well as cases and examples relating to learning to study and understand different dimensions and levels of learning and how we can improve.

2. The classic tradeoff between exploration and exploitation and the difficulties balancing them and how both are essential for learning, is discussed in James March’s work (e.g. Exploration and Exploitation in Organizational Learning | Organization Science ( A recent discussion and application of important parts of “Learning to Win” ( 060822_Learning_to_Win_Report FINAL.pdf)

3. During this iteration of the course, perhaps one of the most interesting aspects is the contribution from the students in the 865 program, which offers an innovative and very student centered graduate degree with a lot of flexibility and electives, in keeping with what navy leaders have emphasized as being essential for the ‘cognitive age’. Each of the students in this program were all taking the course (and in their program) despite working full time in responsible positions, thus already having important intrinsic motivation as learners. The 4 learning leaders in this conversion are all part of this program.

4. The myopia of learning – Levinthal – 1993 – Strategic Management Journal – Wiley Online Library

5. Gen Zinni talked during his visit to class about the problem of leadership ‘By temps’; the lack of continuing to vision. That is a problem both for our own organizations focus over time, and at the national level (General Anthony Zinni (ret.) on Staying Honest with the Troops and Translating Experience | Center for International Maritime Security (

6. Gen Gray emphasizes the importance of thinking and learning embodied in FMFM-1 as a way of thinking that is applicable across organizations and industries. FMFM-1 later became renamed as MCDP-1; hence it is referred to both by students.

7. Gen Gray and Van Riper both mention the study groups and the informal efforts that helped inspire and facilitate learning beyond instructional learning Warfighting Panel – YouTube.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (Oct. 14, 2022) Sailors conduct training in the combat information center aboard Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jordan Jennings)