Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lack of Confidence in Senior Leaders

At the core of all of these (retention) issues is leadership. A belief that the hardships we endure will ease can be sustained only if junior officers have confidence in their leaders. Most don't. And recent events have given them little reason to hope for improvement.

One message from division officers in the fleet was very clear: As we cut manpower and budgets, but keep our level of commitments largely unchanged, the squeeze is felt very painfully at the deck-plate level. Most will agree that our administrative burden has increased steadily over past decades. As a unit's manning slips lower, the remaining crew must work harder to fulfill administrative requirements, which now are scrutinized even more closely in an effort to look better to those up the chain of command.

We saw enormous frustration because of the increased workload caused by gapped or cut billets, drops in repair parts and supply support, and dishonest readiness reporting. Many JOs described increasing difficulty in getting repair parts in a timely manner; parts frequently were removed from nondeployed aircraft and ships so others could sail with all required equipment. Some didn't receive replacements until after training cycle work-ups and were unable to train with certain pieces of vital equipment prior to deployment. Yet readiness was reported as C-1.

Instead of seeing their senior leaders standing up to address these problems, they are turning on the news to hear, "Our readiness has never been higher," and "We can support 2.0 carrier presence in Central Command as long as we need to."

These junior officers acknowledge that we must answer the nation's call, but they feel we also must show what missions we can continue to perform with our shrinking resources. We need to see our senior leaders explain to Congress that the costs of "doing more with less" are being paid with checks written on the backs of our people.

Heartbreaking comments were made by JOs on board several forward-deployed ships: "You come out here and talk to us, as many other flag officers have, but we don't see any action. You may care, but nobody in D.C. does." And, "We keep saying we're going to stop doing more with less, but I haven't seen it happen yet." Or, "At home, our squadrons can hardly fly: we don't have the parts, the aircraft, or the flight hours."

RADM John T. Natter
Listening to Junior Officers


stephen said...


I think parts of the navy are headed for the organizational equivalent of a psychotic break from reality....

It will get much worse before it gets better.

I don't there is the organizational equivalent of a psych ward to put the navy in.....


General Quarters said...

The Navy will continue to be functionally and politically irrelevant for as long as we are engaged in a two-front ground war without a naval theater of operations. Don't expect relief any time soon.

That's reality. Now, turn to.

KMB said...

Add to this the fact that we continue to whittle away at the manning we do have by supporting the Army and the Air Force with IA and GSA billets. Instead of flying aircraft or driving ships, our JOs are increasingly tapped to pull 6-month to 1-year tours completely out of their field of expertise. This is in addition to their normally scheduled deployments based on career timelines. No people, no parts...

General Quarters said...

Although it is cold consolation for those on active duty now, we were in a similar fix in the post-Viet Nam era. My first CO achieved a measure of notoriety for being unable to get his ship underway due to lack of repair parts, then held a press conference about it.

Under a different CO, I recall an inspection being gun decked (literally) by cannibalizing parts from the after gun mount and installing them on the forward mount while the inspector was "officially" distracted. Parts just weren't available, and the CO wasn't willing to CASREP, fail inspection, and probably be relieved for cause. Great lessons for a JO in how not to do it.

We survived as a Navy and got it together during the 1980's. This, too, shall pass.

stephen said...

This time period could also be a chance to to REALLY make fundamental changes to manning, missions, etc., in the surface navy. I do not see this happening-why not be like the Brits or Aussies in the the way they run their communities? There are are lots of ideas out there, lots of studies have already been made. Whats lacking is the decision making. Why are we still stuck in a WWII mode of manning in the surface navy?

In some ways, the current situation is too good to pass up.

Of course it will be.

Anonymous said...

The problem I have is the delta between complaints and reality. I know that the crews have shrunk, many to 1/2 to 2/3 of the size of the original crew. I know that money is tight, but that comes in cycles...sometimes you have to scream to fix enough to barely get underway...and sometimes you have more money than you can spend. I know that the fleet has 101 things they have to do, seemingly all at the same time...and with half the people to do it that you used to have back in "the day". I agree with GQ when he states that things cycle, though I don't think we'll see a massive plus-up of the 80s anytime soon...that was when we were blindly outspending the Soviets and force them to collapse. We knew they were ready to just took the extra push from us (including the "600 ship Navy") to make it happen. But who is our next blue water adversary? From the couple that could potentially fit that role, can we outspend and outman them?

Before I stray too far off topic, let me concentrate on the problem at hand: "We don't have enough manning/money/time/you-name-it to do our mission." Really? I beg to differ. Let me start first by saying that I just left the fleet and I still work with fleet units, so I'm not out of touch with reality or possessed by the grandeur of an office firmly planted in a brick and mortar building instead of a steel hull. I had these same thoughts when I was in the fleet, and the more I see from "the other side", they more they are confirmed.

I may be crucified for saying this, but here's how I see it: I'll be blunt...we are mismanaging our resources.

I will admit there are some definite problems out there - I'll address those later. When I look at a grey hull though and see streaks of rust coming down the sides of it, nonskid bubbling, and holes in topside equipment from corrosion, I see a management problem, not a people or money problem. Yes, most ships have deck divisions that are sometimes 1/2 the size of what they used to be a handful of years ago. But when you have a beautiful day like today, drive along the waterfront and don’t hear a SINGLE have to ask, where are the remaining people? What are they doing? Why haven't other divisions stepped up to share the load with the BMs? On my last ship, I watched in horror as several pieces of topside equipment rotted away from corrosion. How hard is it really to take the affected areas down to bare metal, put primer and paint on it, and preserve what you can? Document the deficiency, and have the leadership fight for funding in the next availability to get it repaired or replaced. How about the equipment as you walk along the DC deck that doesn't have all of the indicator lights working...and haven't been working for months? I guarantee you there is a PMS check for that...why was it gundecked? How about basic cleaning? I can't begin to tell you some of what I've seen...impregnated mold in showers? Where's the "Daily Inspection of Messing and Berthing"?

The Training Cycle...we complain about that. But so few ships actually MANAGE it correctly. Believe it or not, it CAN be an effective and worthwhile exercise, and not something that requires a knee-jerk reaction and just enough effort to get by. It's possible, but it takes effort and a little legwork. Break out of the box, to PB4T the way the SFTM says to do it, manage your own schedule, train yourselves REGULARLY. It can be done!

(End of Part 1 due to size!)

Anonymous said...

Part 2...

We can complain all day long about not having enough people or enough money to get things accomplished. Okay, extend working hours inport. Give people one hour to PT instead of two. Take away the X-Boxes and Play Stations. Turn off web browsing (with exception) during working hours. Don't have supplies? Have you checked DRMO lately? Last time I was there I got two pallets of haze grey paint...for FREE. Don't have enough bodies onboard to take care of PMS? Drop to three or four section duty and keep more people on the ship to work longer. Sailors before us did it for decades and survived just fine. If people don't like it, they can leave the Navy...but commands have to be okay with that. I know it's out of the box, but we need to stop thinking so much about "crew morale" and start thinking of what we have to do to preserve our weapons of war. Let me put it this way: morale will not improve by coming to work on a rusted, smelly hull. Coming to work on a smart, clean weapon of war builds morale. It's like working can't look like a bodybuilder unless you actually work out. We're afraid that by forcing people to "work out" that they'll leave the Navy and we'll look bad because retention will go down. But how can you get the body you want if you never put out the effort and live through the pain to get it? If Sailors don't like that idea, they can get another job in a bad job market. More power to them.

Yes, there are problems. Some basic rudimentary knowledge and skill is lacking in our technicians. We need to bring back more robust schooling for our Sailors (officer and enlisted alike) that trains them to be a competent, useful member of the crew BEFORE they arrive on the ship. OJT and CBT, as much as they save money and time, aren't cutting it. For maintenance, we need to bring back the SIMA concept, and have it manned by Sailors. These Sailors can help our ships with their maintenance and at the same time, train the Sailors attached to SIMA to be specialists in specific maintenance areas. Relying on civilian contractors and retired Navy for their expertise (and they do bring a lot to the table, don't misunderstand me) works for now...but when the knowledgeable ones finally retire out, who are we left with? We haven't trained anyone to take their places as technical experts. There are more things we can do - these are starters for some of the more obvious problems.

Just my two cents...stop COMPLAINING and start MANAGING the way leaders are expected to's not nearly as bad as it seems!

Captain - Special Duty Cryptology said...

Hear hear, on parts 1 and 2. Roger all and agree.

stephen said...

A brief comment for anonymous:

I did some commissioned time in the Army in the 70's and Army schooling for JO's (O1-O2) was miles ahead of what the surface navy did at the time.

I was in arty and at the basic and canon battery school we literally worked every position in the battery-enlisted and officer. We worked every position on the guns, every position in FDC, and every position in the battery. A 2lt coming out of Ft. Sill was schooled up to the battery XO position. His next batch of long schooling would be the battery commander course. Same with infantry, armor, ADA, Transportation,etc.

This schooling was done normally before reporting to your first duty assignment.

I think the Navy has really got to take a hard look at this generalized officer thing and start thinking.

I agree with your observations. Very well written! I look forward to reading your next posting. No reason the ETs can't help scrape paint and no reasons the BMs can't stand sounding and security. NO ONE should be off the watch bill underway. I have seen an E-5 stand EOOW and I see no reason an why an Ens. should not stand S&S.

Money is not always the answer-quite often it is how things are done that needs to change.

I have to admit I wish I was a ghost in the CNO's office. The how-to of planning how the navy or any service is going to run in terms of requirements, manpower, material, etc. fascinates me. I wish I knew more about the high level stuff.

Once again thanks to you and our host-I read this blog daily and I have not been near salt water since the late 80's.

General Quarters said...

Anon 1/2, great observations especially that we are unlikely to see a major 1980's style naval plus up. I think we are more likely to achieve equilibrium by drawing down as the RN and FSU were forced to do, simply because the federal government is spending wildly beyond its means, unless we enter a major global conflict and the entire economy moves to wartime footing.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1/2 GREAT ideas! How about we stop having enlisted Sailors do junior officer's jobs and actually hold them accountable to their professional pipelines...the Navy has CPOs doing the JOs jobs because and the JOs lose this skillset...Do away with the direct commission out of college and start everybody as enlisted with the potential of actually earning a commission...a 4 yr degree is like a H.S. diploma was 15-20 yrs ago..."everybody has one"

stephen said...

Anon 1/2- Great writing and good points.

Take care of your weapons then yourself!