It’s summer time. Some of us here on ID are on vacation, while others (like me) are spending evenings on the deck enjoying the dog days of summer with a glass of wine and good book. Yeah, there are plenty of things to write about, but I’m OK taking a few slow weeks on the blog hanging with the family until school starts. I hope many of you do the same.
But things are happening…
First, last night I listened to this past weekend of Midrats – a full hour with Chris Cavas. Bottom line, best hour of naval discussion you are going to find anywhere in audio. That show has a sweet spot in my opinion, because when the discussion becomes a sharp guest who discusses naval history in the context of current events, that show becomes solid gold interesting. I highly encourage you to put the headphones on and listen, I think you will find yourself enjoying it quite a bit.
Chris Cavas says many interesting things, but specifically something I thought was very thought provoking – something I never gave much thought about until last night. Chris Cavas suggested it’s possible that DDG-1000 could be a HMS Dreadnaught or Monitor. The way he proposes this suggestion in the discussion was very interesting, and absolutely thought provoking. It really is a great hour of radio.
Second, Secretary Mabus is good at making headlines, whether it is ship names or green energy, but most of the attention he gets is little more than political attacks. More legitimate attacks in my opinion are things like the breathalyser tests – small things with huge impacts that understandably piss people off. The breathalyser test in particular – rightfully in my opinion – will mark Secretary Mabus negatively and it will likely be a policy that is discarded in the future, because if my employer gave me a breathalyser test every day I showed up for work, I’d file a lawsuit. Breathalyser tests are issued as a punishment handed out by judges to folks who commit crimes, for example you may have to blow in one to start a car. It is also used in law enforcement, but only for people who have demonstrated suspicious criminal activity related to alcohol. The implication of the Navy policy is that serving in the Navy is a crime because it requires such punishments, or being a sailor makes you a suspicious person related to alcohol. Talk about an unfair stereotype. That policy strikes me as one of the most blatant abuses of government power specific to military professionals enacted since the civil rights era, and it is shameful how politicians stand in silence on the issue.
But something else has happened under Secretary Mabus that no one really highlights. The ship has been righted regarding shipbuilding, as there is very little happening right now that is obviously a huge shipbuilding issue. LPD-17 is stable. LCS is stable. DDG-51 Flight IIA is stable. MLP is stable. DDG-1000 is stable. LHA is stable. Sure there is always risk, but nothing on any of those programs we can point to as being highly risky from a shipbuilding budget perspective. CVN… I think it’s stable, but no question that’s where the biggest risk is today. All in all though, shipbuilding is in better shape today than it has been at any point in the 21st century.
While the Breathalyzer test is a policy that is flat out unforgivable in my eyes and will mark Ray Mabus’s record as being the SECNAV who treated the sailors under his watch as drunkards, there are other aspects of leadership under his watch that are truly excellent. He will not be remembered for those good things, but that’s his problem.
Third, the US Naval Institute has put out a video trailer on YouTube regarding a book to be released soon – The Aden Effect. The Naval Institute has published plenty of historical fiction over the years, but there are only a few examples of fiction as contemporary military thrillers. The last two times the Naval Institute Press published contemporary fiction, I am pretty sure the two books were Flight of the Intruder and The Hunt for Red October. I am really looking forward to reading The Aden Effect. Check out the trailer. Pretty cool.
Fourth, speaking of USNI, what a brilliant post and discussion over at the USNI Blog by RDML Foggo as he takes on tough topics like strategic communications and branding. If any PAOs want to jump into that discussion with a professional opinion and engage a professional discussion specific to your profession, you know I want to post it!
My short take is this – I think RDML Monyihan was one of the most successful Navy leaders of his generation, because it is blatantly obvious to even the most casual observer how much the Navy Information Office changed on his watch. The Navy built and developed their entire social media space, developed policies and standards, and their activities on Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr are truly excellent. The new Navy.mil website has worked out some initial kinks and looks great – even on mobile devices. The Navy’s Official Blog has really evolved and is nothing short of fantastic (for example from yesterday), and if you aren’t checking it every day I think you might want to think about doing so. The transformation of Navy Information under RDML Monyihan was remarkable, and in hindsight I think it is very fair to say that the amount of positive change he put into action under his Command rivals any Flag officer tour in modern navy history from an “omg that’s obviously a huge and positive difference” perspective.
But as CHINFO, RDML Monyihan focused on infrastructure from which RDML Kirby can build the Navy Information community from. Don’t get me wrong, RDML Monyihan empowered people, but the changes in Navy Information were mostly at the technical, policy, and tool level of information distribution. The PAO as a professional didn’t evolve much under RDML Monyihan, even as all the tools available to the PAO absolutely did.
The question is – where does and where should – the Navy Information folks go from here – and I think the question is specific to topics of people, service, responsibility, and role. RDML Foggo has a very interesting take on the evolving role of professionals in public affairs, at minimum a discussion I think worth having.
The tools are in place, the policies have been refined through experience… now it’s time for the ideas and people to put the tools to work. I believe RDML Foggo has started the right conversation, and the time is now for PAOs to push new ideas as it relates to their profession, and one way to do it is to join the discussion RDML Foggo is trying to kickstart. I hope several of you decide to make ID that place to have that discussion, because I think my audience would find that discussion very interesting and engaging.
PAOs as the Navy’s strategic action officers? In the information age – the CO, XO, and PAO might be the right team for exactly that in every AOR.
Fifth and finally, by now I am sure all of you have read the personal account by a sailor on USS Porter posted on CDR Salamander. In that account is is noted that sailors spent the first night sleeping on deck in a ship deemed uninhabitable due to ACs being down. It’s a single data point, and may not be a defining one, but when a ship takes damage at 1:00am, struggles the rest of the night and into the next day to get to shore, then has to sleep on a ship in a foreign port in the open on deck in the desert air – that pretty much sucks. The personal account also notes that a bunch of resources for the ship – technical and otherwise – has arrived. These are mixed results, and can’t possibly inform us of the whole story.
But history advises us what to watch for when a ship takes damage and/or casualty, and 5th fleet has a history. In the 1987-1988 tanker war, both the USS Start (FFG 31) and USS Samuel B Roberts (FFG 58) incidents demonstrated that 5th Fleets support for the sailors was ultimately inadequate to the task in supporting the crew. In both cases sailors persevered – as great sailors do – but the lessons learned was that disaster recovery and contingency planning by 5th Fleet needed to be better. USS Cole (DDG 67) in 2000 was a reminder that those plans had not evolved much, and that ship was on it’s own for way too long before the fleet was able to offer quality support.
I think this issue is very important. The very same waters where the USS Porter incident occurred is where the next war at sea might occur, and that war could legitimately occur as soon as next week. It is my hope that as part of the response to this incident 5th Fleet makes the disaster response to ship casualties and damage a top priority, because while it would be a major tragedy to lose a US Navy warship, it would be an unforgivable, incalculable tragedy of epic proportions to unnecessarily lose sailors as part of that event because 5th Fleet wasn’t prepared to support ships and sailors fighting for our nation. War at sea is historically a war of attrition, planning for ship casualties and damage is the most historically obvious planning effort necessary as part of any war planning effort in that AOR, even as we all hope those plans are never needed. For better or worse, this incident with PORTER was a good data point towards informing whether the disaster response plan in that AOR worked effectively or not.