Military leadership, readiness, national security and armchair quarterbacking during a pandemic

There are a lot of outraged voices, from the mothers of Navy Sailors aboard the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, halls of the United States Congress, international and national news outlets, to crusty, retired officers and Chief Petty Officers regarding the Navy Department’s handling of (1) incidence of the Corona virus, COVID-19, sickening the ship’s crew, and (2) her skipper’s communications with senior leadership in the Pentagon. And the final outrage, was the Commanding Officer’s dismissal as commander of the TR at the direction of the Secretary of the Navy.

As the facts leading up to Captain Brett Crozier’s removal as the Commanding Officer become clearer, it appears that from the 3 crewmembers who were reported to the Navy Department to have symptoms of the corona virus on March 24th, as of Monday, March 30, that number had grown to one hundred Sailors. On Tuesday, April 1st, a letter from Captain Crozier, dated March 30, to the Navy Department was released by the San Francisco Chronicle detailing the emerging crisis. According to statements obtained after the Captain’s dismissal, during that same week in March, the Navy had been working to obtain medical beds and accommodations on Guam, for the Sailors who had not yet been exposed. One undisclosed spokesperson told the paper that the complexity of a nuclear-powered warship with weapons, billions of dollars of equipment aboard, and a specific mission priorities was not a matter of simply going pierside and offloading the crew.

According to an article published in Foreign Policy (foreignpolicy.com), the Captain had multiple conversations with the chief of staff to the acting Navy Secretary, Thomas Modly, just prior to his letter being leaked to the journal. According to the remarks of Acting Secretary Modly, loss of confidence in Captain Crozier’s leadership, primarily in releasing his communication with Navy senior leadership outside official Navy channels (unsecured email) was the primary motivation for his dismissal. At the time of Modly’s remarks to the Press, no implication had been made that Crozier himself emailed the San Francisco newspaper.

From his Navy biography, Captain Crozier has 28 years of experience as a Naval officer. He is a graduate of the Naval Academy, Naval Postgraduate School, Navy Nuclear Power School, as well as his role as a aviator. His roles indicate his competence and increasingly stature, from tours supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, squadron commander, Executive Officer of the carrier Ronald Reagan and Commander of the USS Blue Ridge ( the Commander, Seventh Fleet flagship). From his pedigree and expertise, it does not seem that this man would be given to poor judgement or failure to command. Following the chain of command, for guidance is as much a part of military training for officers and enlisted personnel as is maintaining operational security (OPSEC). One of the tenets of military leadership is preventing potential adversaries observing a weakness or casualty of one of the means of a nation’s power projection. From the letter released by the Chronicle, the commanding officer’s opening remarks convey his human, if desperate concern for his crew.

For anyone who has watched the 1949 film, Twelve O’clock High, part of the curriculum for in a Navy leadeship seminar in the early 2000s, a failure of military leadership – was the rationale for an American bomber squadron commander being relieved. Fatigue, a lack of discipline, and over-protectiveness for his men were conveyed rather convincingly by the commander being relieved. The incoming commander portrayed by Gregory Peck, demanded military bearing, performance, and training standards that returned the unit effectiveness. (Note: while actor Jimmy Stewart actually flew bombers over Germany in WWII, Gregory Peck was medically exempted from service). Evidence from wartime, acts of terrorism, and peacetime accidents among all the military services tend to corroborate that a commanding officer cannot relax military discipline, rules barring familiarity, nor standards of professionalism because it may diminish effectiveness and bring harm to all members of a unit.

The Captain may have understood that the Navy, like large bureaucracies, takes a glacially -long time to respond to crises, and the exponential rate of infection aboard his ship needed swift action to preserve his crew’s health. The threat to the health of a military unit, from influenza, or a biological agent has been considered for years. A casual search online for training, policies and procedures related to the Department of Defense, military readiness, and contagious disease, found several official sources listed here.

Policies and procedures, if only considered as an academic exercise, when dealing with a global pandemic, may not be part of a tactical commander’s toolkit. Just as the rest of the country has begun experiencing the severity of the illness and the mitigation efforts of “social distancing”, aboard a Navy ship, it has long been known that an entire crew will put to sea – and any flu bug that some experience will work its way to everyone. With the nature of COVID-19, healthy Sailors might be dead within two weeks of exposure – and infect any number of shipmates before symptoms are evident.

As for the Captain’s options, it may have definitely been an error in judgement if his letter was not conveyed with the approval of his next senior in command, through official navy channels, or to include spouse or spouses unsecured (non-military) email addresses in a Navy unclassified email. However, it is certainly a lapse in judgement if purposely sent through unofficial channels and intended for senior leadership. While the message and not the medium is being highlighted by most non-military experts, Crozier’s options to expedite a response was equally damaging for him personally. While the Acting Navy Secretary may have provided a direct line for the Captain to communicate his concerns, going outside the Chain of Command, in bypassing the theater Air and Fleet Commanders, and the several seniors in command at the Pentagon, to directly communicate with the Secretary, would doom his naval career anyway.

It is unreasonable for civilians, young sailors, spouses, academics and politicians to demand as to what the Navy should or should not do regarding decisions, leadership roles, policy and procedures, or fitness for Command. Politics and public opinion should have little bearing on how the military operates. But veterans know that politics have had a great deal of influence on how the military conducts America’s foreign policy. With a pandemic threatening our global readiness, none of us ‘armchair quarterbacks’ can reliably comment how a commander should have responded. It was for superior conduct, making difficult decisions and carrying out the orders of the President and his senior commanders, that a warship commander is rigorously trained and selected. -ES

remain calm

I get a choice every time I have to open my mouth: that it can be with civility and dignity and grace – or not.

Dan Perino, https://www.brainyquote.com

Civility. Remaining calm, cool and collected, my father said, when you are feeling frustrated, can help you work with difficult people, a difficult situation, or when timeliness is a factor. It is a casualty of the modern world. Often, we can be frustrated by bureaucracy made doubly difficult with technology. And often, particularly among those my age and older, talking to a “live person” trumps all the automated menu selections, voice mail, email, and FAQ website responses.

For multiple reasons in the past couple months, I have had opportunities to “lose it”. As a self-employed business person, I have performed work over multiple days per month, and multiple months without receiving contractually-promised payment for service. We have had to make inquiries via email and telephone, and have gotten ambiguous, “things are somewhat behind” responses from administrative personnel. This is becoming an issue I may need to be civil, as in litigation, to resolve.

Personally, I am also somewhat frustrated by a pension that is months behind schedule. I retired from the military as a Reservist, and waited nearly ten years to receive the promised pension when I turned sixty years old. First, was the requirement, to request payment, along with various documents I needed to submit to the Government nearly eight months in advance. And then months past the promised start of the pension, to wait till my online account indicated it recognized me as a “retiree” — but without indicating whether payment would be forthcoming. I am remaining calm but it is work.

18 A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,

    but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.

Proverbs 15: 18 (NIV)

And then there was the change in health insurance, from an employer plan to a federally-subsidized and managed Tri-care plan. The former was really quite exceptional, but the new plan has had some ‘bumps’, one involving an authorization for a prescription I have been using for 20 years. (As I determined by a telephone conversation with a live representative today, the responsibility was on the physician’s office to correctly authorize it.)

Basically, with each interaction I have had with an individual, when the ‘aggrieved party’ (me) recognizes the humanity of all parties concerned, things go better. (A computer database is only as good as the person entering the data.) As long as I treat people (operators, assistants, customer service representatives, and doctors) politely, but resolutely, everything works out – eventually.

And when possible, get people you interact with laughing or at least smiling. I had to include this ancient clip from one of my all-time favorite movies, Animal House. When everything is going nuts, here’s the one guy trying to help other remain calm.

Florida’s Panama City, torn apart by Hurricane Michael, now managed by 2-star Army general

Your post-military career can be a refreshing change of pace,  or an opportunity to put everything you have ever done to use,   testing of your faith,  and the hopes and dreams of your neighbors and friends, right where you are needed. 

via Florida’s Panama City, torn apart by Hurricane Michael, now managed by 2-star Army general

Sailors see red

A long time ago I was a young sailor.  On a couple of occasions I recall seeing a Chief Petty Officer wearing his Dress Blues, and the hash marks (service stripes) on his sleeve ran from cuff to his elbow. One time I saw a Second Class Petty Officer in his dress blues who I joked crewed with Noah, by the years represented on his uniform.   More often than not I would see “red” instead of the “gold”.   For those who are unfamiliar with hash marks, or Navy uniforms,  these once represented four-year periods of service (now they represent 3-years).  After twelve years of “good conduct” – we earned a “Good Conduct” medal/ ribbon for each four-year period – we had the right to wear gold-threaded rating badges and hash marks on our service blues – either the “Cracker Jacks” for junior Sailors,  or the Chief’s Dress Blues.

The Chief pictured here,  and in particular, the Master Chief (the rating badge with two stars, red stripes, and hash marks to his elbow) seems to be a shipmate of mine from the days of Sail.    However,  he screwed up somewhere.  Probably chewing out a junior officer over one of the Sailors – or stupidity that the Officer committed.  And he didn’t get punished badly.  He just didn’t earn a “Good Conduct” ribbon somewhere in the previous twelve years!

But you do not become a Master Chief Petty Officer by being a screw up.  Or a “politician”.   We could use a few more of these “Salty Sailors”, particularly in our universities and halls of Government.  But then they would never earn gold hash marks.   Too much stupidity.  Too many opportunities to cuss out kids, professors and politicians for unprofessional conduct.

If we only still used “fan room” counseling.

 

Who better to lead

When I chose to make the military my career,  I vowed to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  Never in my nearly sixty years of age, did I think that, disagreements on policy priorities and governance aside, that our two-hundred forty year old nation would be so divided internally, and so poorly governed.

Since the first Gulf War, in 1991,  the members of Congress in particular, and the Government bureaucrats and advisers, generally, with military service -especially wartime combat service have declined.  With a world view fueled by lifelong academics with little to no experience abroad,  the men and women who are seeking to “fundamentally transform America” ( then-candidate Barack Obama) do not have American interests, nor practical American foreign policy concerns at heart.

Whether it is the shortsighted foreign policy objectives  or the politically-encumbered execution of military operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia,  military men and women have been sent into harm’s way.  And the bureaucrats, industrial lobbyists, politicians, academics, and news media corporations, all vie for primacy while the American soldier, sailor, airman, marine, and our border enforcement agents all are treated shabbily.

When I heard today that Jeff Bezos of Amazon donated millions to a PAC, With Honor,  I started to look into it.   The idea that military, particularly combat-veterans, should run for political office and senior bureaucratic offices at all levels of government, cheers me.  It sounds intriguing.  I have served with some who have held offices in state governments and have brought a lot of wisdom and value to serving their constituents. But with electoral campaigns running into the millions of dollars, few can compete without well-connected benefactors.  There needs to be effective support systems that are independent of party affiliation.  And with veterans in the workings of government, there may be better opportunity to provide well-earned services to our veterans,  and to provide some sober judgement about policies that may send others into harms way.

More to come.

Leaders lead not persecute

A story I heard today set my jaw, got my dander up, and got me to thinking what sort of incapable hands, and I am speaking of the enlisted Navy khaki community – have my Brothers and Sisters in the CPO Mess (Retired) left behind?   In recent years, story after story of accidents,  improper behavior (fraternization) and issues with ships, aircraft and installations continue to be reported.   The Navy’s top enlisted Sailor, the MCPON, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, resigned due to allegations of improper leadership this year.   And I heard today that a Sailor, who happens to be a career top performer and a person who shares my faith (and a member of my congregation), is being allegedly PERSECUTED by the unit CPO Mess for  (allegedly) sharing values with another sailor.    Honor? Courage? Commitment?

20180410_183907437629359.jpg
honoring the WWII sacrifice of 4 chaplains

I have to wonder what has happened to the Navy I served for twenty-six years.  For as long as people have put to sea, spiritual beliefs have gone to sea with them.  For the last two centuries, members of a faith community have been guaranteed the freedom of expression, worship, and other rights, as well as equal protection under the law.  I certainly understand that everyone is entitled – and in the military particularly – to believe whatever they want to believe – as long as the mission and the team performance are not negatively affected.  A conscientious objector in charge of a weapons system is not expected.  A polygamist or adulterer is not expected to respond to policies that define conduct  which brings discredit the unit.   A person with addiction, particularly to alcohol or prescription drugs, is not the model of reliability in a moment of necessary quick response or judgement.

A search online on the topic of faith and military duty will reveal articles that support that servicemen and women of faith make better and more capable members.  And there has been at least one who was convicted at courts martial for refusing to obey orders to remove a display of religious quotes in her workplace.  That conviction was based in part on disobedience to a lawful order, and failure to demonstrate that she had taken all the proper steps via the chain of command to remedy her particular issues.

In the case of the Sailor I heard about today, I know that conduct was not the issue.  Disobedience and disrespect of a shipmate was not the issue.  If good people of faith,  technically capable and ethically sound, are forced out of serving in uniform,  then the nation as a whole suffers.  I do not expect all members of the military to share my Christian faith, nor even to have a belief in a supernatural Deity.   But I have known men and women in positions of responsibility whose conduct and attitude demeaned their peers and subordinates.  Some of those subordinates chose to leave the service at the end of their contracts.

fb_img_15287322881111Honor. Courage. Commitment.    Leadership in the armed forces of the United States is a privilege.  And respecting the spiritual beliefs of capable, ethical, and valuable members of the team is but one trait that an exceptional member of the Chief Petty Officer Mess can impart.

What has “comfort zone” to do with “success”?

In the United States Navy,  and by extension, the other military services,  an individual has fairly equal opportunity to rise up the advancement ladder, and to qualify for challenging assignments.    Leadership, as practiced by some I have had the great fortune to be mentored by, has been recognized by their being awarded positions among the highest authority and responsibility in that service.   By mentorship I mean, demonstrating integrity,  fortitude (in spite of personal hardships), a commitment to excellence and encouraging others to reach beyond “comfort” in doing.

“Every Sailor has the potential to lead. I don’t care if it’s a seaman recruit or someone higher ranking than myself. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. ” (All Hands Call, Norfolk, VA 01 May 2007)

 

“The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instruction and give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice as to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other in dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them respect for himself; while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his subordinates, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.”
LTG John M. Schofield, 1879

Ask people whether they have a dream visceral enough they want accomplished.  Material possessions,  security, education, or a deeply-committed and loving marital relationship.   Then ask those same people if they were willing to do whatever it took, in terms of work,  being sleep-deprived, learning difficult lessons, memorizing, practicing, enduring criticism and overcoming obstacles to achieve their dreams.   Fewer might push on.  Of that reduced number,  how many would endure whatever life handed them in the pursuit of that dream, as days became weeks, and weeks became months, and months became years?   Fewer perhaps.  In an article in Forbes,  a contributor has published eight traits to predict future success.  These include delaying gratification, being seriously motivated and organized, believing that they make the choices which affect their outcomes, and having fortitude during adversity.   Predictably, past success leads to future success.

To achieve “success”,  whatever that may be in terms of the dreams one has,  requires steadfast devotion.   Integrity.  Mental and physical toughness.   And determination that there is no “giving up or giving in”.   It may be an enlisted member’s goal to become an Officer or senior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO).  For others, it might be to earn membership into the ranks of the SEALs.   The few Navy warriors who complete the BUDS training to become SEALs achieve their first qualifier.  Training continues from there.  Other services have their special forces as well.

But it can also be the single mother who is raising three young children,  in school for a professional certification, who then cares for her children,  studies all night, and maintains the family chores all at the same time.  And excels.    Or it can be the aging sailor with a dream to become a Chief Petty Officer who  commits to every training session,  early morning fitness challenge, seeks, finds and puts into practice the guidance from others with decades of leadership expertise.

“Success” can be the married young engineer, father of two, one a newborn, who spends time with his children and wife at those critical “family-building” times.  Yet he is working early or into late hours, and finding innovative and productive solutions to technical challenges simultaneously.

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[a] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. – Matthew 19: 28 -29 (NIV)

And then there are the spiritually-rewarding opportunities that define “success”.  The young graduate of a university with a business degree, sought by several businesses, who voluntarily goes to aid the victims of a natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina, and the Haitian earthquake), as an unpaid volunteer for a charitable organization,  finds a mission and a calling that becomes a career.

“A business is simply an idea to make other people’s lives better.”  –Richard Branson

Many of the most-recognized entrepreneurs today did not find instant reward and acceptance when they began.  Whether it was Ray Kroc and McDonalds,  or  Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple,  or my company’s CEO, Mark Dankberg and his team,  it took determination, confidence,  a pursuit of excellence, and vision for the people they attracted, and the customers they served.  But each built multi-billion dollar, world-changing enterprise.

Do you have the integrity, the guts, and the desire to improve others with a dream you want to achieve.  Are you willing to get out of your “comfort zone” to achieve them?