Monday, June 17, 2013

Officers and Chiefs - a distinction

Serving as a commissioned officer differs from other forms of Navy leadership by the quality and breadth of expert knowledge required, in the measure of responsibility attached, and in the magnitude of the consequences of inaction or ineffectiveness.

A Navy Chief swears an oath of obedience to lawful orders, while the Naval officer promises to, “well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office.”

This distinction establishes a different expectation for discretionary initiative. Officers should be driven to maintain the momentum of operations, possess courage to deviate from standing orders within the commander’s intent when required, and be willing to accept the responsibility and accountability for doing so.

While Naval officers depend on the counsel, technical skill, maturity, and experience of the Chief to translate their orders into action, the ultimate responsibility for mission success or failure resides with the Naval officer.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

You win...Officers are better than Chiefs. When will the caste system in the military end?

mike said...

@ Anon June 18, 2013 at 3:29 AM

I didn't say better, just different.

Anonymous said...

It's only caste if you can't change your stars.

Lukas Dwelly said...

This topic was significant throughout my DCOIC. Having been a enlisted Marine, this post and other recent discussions really drive b home the relationship between the chiefs and officers, while respect should be given to chiefs, at the end of the day the team's success, morale and path is set by officers.

Anonymous said...

Captain Lambert,

I do not wish to disagree with this post, but when it is stated that “A Navy Chief swears an oath of obedience to lawful orders” I would question the validity of that statement. The oath itself says that I will obey the orders of … But there is nothing in the oath that says the lawful orders of. It has been some time since I took my last oath of obedience, but it was my understanding during my entire Navy career that a Sailor carried out any order given by a superior, and after that any recourse can be made to those orders if one felt that to be necessary, There were few cases during any time in my career that I questioned whether an order given by a superior was lawful or unlawful, I carried that order out to the best of my ability, and there were very few times that I questioned those orders. The military must be based on obeying the orders of superiors and I always observed those orders.

Navyman834

James Hammersla said...

Despite the verbiage of the enlisted oath (which does not specify obedience to lawful orders), it has been pretty well established in law that unlawful orders should not be followed, and doing so leaves one accountable under the law. In United States v. Keenan, the accused (Keenan) was found guilty of murder after he obeyed in order to kill an elderly Vietnamese citizen who posed no threat to the soldiers at the time. The Court of Military Appeals held that "the justification for acts done pursuant to orders does not exist if the order was of such a nature that a man of ordinary sense and understanding would know it to be illegal."

James Hammersla said...

The obeying all orders versus obeying lawful orders discussion actually has some interesting Naval History to it:

In 1799 after President Adams ordered Naval commanders to seize ships bound for French ports. President Adams order was counter to a law passed by the Congress affirming the government (executive branch) did not have the authority to do so. Captain George Little of the USS Boston seized the Danish ship Flying Fish, which was later ordered freed by a federal court and a US Circuit Court of Appeals later ordered Captain Little to pay damages to the owners of the Flying Fish since he had violated the law.

Anonymous said...

James Hammersla,

I probably have observed every post of yours over the last number of years that I have been submitting posts to this blog, and you always made a great deal of sense to me in your attitude of the military position and the written words you posted. I do believe what you say, and in researching those words I found those nearly exact words on the internet in both cases you stated. I felt that a man of your experience would have had a number of things that could be used to back up his opinion fresh in his mind. This little disagreement between us amounts to no more than the old catch 22 “where you were damned if you do or damned if you don’t”. It was always my opinion that if a Soldier, Sailor, Marine or any other military person, in the case of war, disobeyed a direct order from a senior he was subject to be shot at that time, but with the number of cases of PSTD individuals that are known today and these military folks are still sent into the theater of war. What are these people to do? They are barely hanging on to their sanity and then they are at times required to carry out orders that may be lawful or unlawful and their training makes them respond to that order. That is what military people do and it has nothing to do with what you copied from the case involved "the justification for acts done pursuant to orders does not exist if the order was of such a nature that a man of ordinary sense and understanding would know it to be illegal." What kind of an idiot statement is this, when this man may have served four, five or 6 tours in two different wars that have gone on for a decade and more and then the Soldier is blamed for his judgment in error because he tried to carry out orders given to him by a superior.

By the way you failed to mention that the Corporal who gave the order for Keenan to shoot this individual was later found to be not guilty by reason of insanity. It would appear to me that the entire episode was insanity.

The oath that military individuals are required to express should be more explicit and at least point out that the orders they obey from superiors must be lawful orders.

Very Respectfully,

Navyman834
E. A. Hughes, FTCM(SS)
USN (Retired)

James Hammersla said...

Master Chief,
I agree that choosing to not obey an unlawful order does potentially put someone in a lose-lose situation. As established by precedent, we are accountable for our actions. if put in a tough situation we face a choice to fall back on our principles and risk our careers or to do something we know to be wrong (illegal) and claim subordinate status as our ‘out’. As you said, PFC Keenan's squad leader was acquitted due to insanity which reinforces the decision that that I quoted -- a man of ordinary sense and understanding (Keenan) should not have obeyed the order to kill a civilian. I spent 12 years as a Marine, have been in combat … several times … I was not trained to be an automaton that blindly follows orders but to observe, orient to the situation, make decisions and act.
To tie back to the original post, there are different expectations for what is expected of Officers and Chiefs. Some of these differences are exemplified in the oaths of office and oath of enlistment. I would be ineffective as an Officer without good Sailors as part of the team, and Chiefs (in my opinion) are the lynchpin of that team.
As far as the issues of redeploying service members with PTSD to combat, I would be interested in discussing it in a different forum., PTSD is a bit of a side project right now and I am genuinely interested in your opinion.

Very respectfully,
James Hammersla

Anonymous said...

James Hammersla,

I have been concerned for my fellow military brothers since I first enlisted in the Navy in January 1954 and the longer I spent in the Navy and the military the more I became concerned about some of the things that Soldiers, Marines and Sailors did in the time of war and the things they were caught up in because of obeying orders or the way that war effected their minds, and turned many into something other than rational human beings. I have already delved into territory that you would prefer to discuss on a different forum, I do not know how I will be able to aid you in this discussion, but if I am able I will try to make some contribution to that effort.

My e-mail address is
hughes235@aol.com if you wish to communicate with me on the subject.

Very Respectfully,
Navyman834