Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thoughts on the New Navy

An article in the Washington Post today caught my eye. It discussed a disturbing trend: too many Commanding Officers are being fired this year for personal misconduct. As trends go, this one is all over the board. The CO's are on ships, submarines, air squadrons, and shore sites. They're men and women. They've been fired for inappropriate relationships, hostile command climates, alcohol, raunchy movies, and more. An article in the Navy Times provides specific names and limited details.

As a former Navy Commanding Officer, I'm disturbed by these reports. They raise some serious questions. What's going on with the CO's? Is something failing in their professional development? Are they just being stupid all at once? From the information in the two articles, I can't tell.

There is no single thread running through these firings. One, heavily reported in the press, was the CO of the Enterprise. When he was the Executive Officer (XO, the #2 position on the ship) of the ship, he participated in making some raunchy and inappropriate videos. Stupid. The CO of an attack squadron was fired after being caught DUI. Stupid. The CO of an amphibious ship (female) allowed hazing and used a loaded weapon in a dangerous manner. Stupid. The CO of a submarine mishandled classified information and tried to cover it up. Stupid. The Commodore of a destroyer squadron had a relationship with another officer's wife. Stupid.

It's not just CO's. The Navy Times article lists XO's and Senior Enlisted Advisors as well. These two individuals, along with the CO, establish the climate in the command. If they screw up, it's almost as serious as a CO screwup.

The military has a long tradition of holding its leaders to higher standards. There's a reason: leadership is more important to success than technology, sheer knowledge, or anything else. In the Navy, lives depend on a senior officer's leadership on a daily basis. The sea is a very unforgiving place and when something happens, the CO and his leaders have to have the unquestioned trust and respect of the crew. Naval officers are raised with this awareness from the day they enter the service and it's pounded into them throughout their career.

Now, people are people, with all their foibles, weaknesses, and quirks, and CO's are no different. I've certainly worked with some quirky senior officers in my career and some might say I'm quirky, too. But as a CO, you have to step up to the plate and recognize that you're held to a much higher standard. These individuals, for whatever reason, messed up. Maybe it was a single bad decision, maybe it was for a pattern of behavior over a long period of time, but they didn't uphold the standard. So they were fired. For an officer, that's it: your career is over and you may as well resign. Otherwise, you'll be manning an unimportant desk buried in some unimportant job, while everybody around you knows that you didn't measure up.

On the one hand, I'm happy to see that the Navy is still holding CO's accountable for their actions, and holding them to the same high standards they always have. That's the good news. The bad news is that a lot of CO's right now aren't measuring up. Why? I don't know. But anybody who aspires to be a CO (which, in my opinion, should be every officer) should take a lesson from all these firings. Substandard performance just doesn't cut it.

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