In the Navy, Verbiage Expands as Fleet Shrinks

© 20 February 2008

21 February 2008

The US Navy is going through hard times. What is incontestably the best Navy the world has ever seen, manned by professionals of astonishing commitment and vast capability, the Navy nonetheless is falling into a trap of its own making.

The Navy is struggling to adapt to an unfavorable alignment of the stars. Its role in the war on terror has been limited, as a deep water navy based upon the carrier battle group is of little use ashore when compared to the demands placed upon infantry, artillery, and armor. Money is ever more routinely diverted to the Army and Marine Corps. Still struggling after almost 20 years to realign itself from the force that defeated the Soviet Union on the high seas (an effort in which I had a modest part) to a need for a riverine, shallow-water force able to project ashore in support of the infantry, the Navy is facing multiple problems in maintaining a 313-ship force into the new century. Aside from the problem of funding programs that have already been approved for X and Y dollars, the dismaying fact is that major weapons systems costs have soared out of control for a combination of reasons. As noted before in The Nav Log, the facts are multitude and contested, but one problem not in dispute is that the costs for the new DDG-1000 guided missile destroyer (to have been 50+ hulls, now just 3-7), CG(X) guided missile cruiser, littoral combat ship (LCS) (to have been 55 hulls, now stalled at two and maybe replaced by the Coast Guard National Security Cutter), and Virginia-class (SSN-74) submarines are coming in at three times or more the approved, estimated costs. Funding for such programs as the P-8A multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMA) (to have been 156 aircraft, now 108, and probably far fewer) and its side-kick, the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance UAV (to have been 50, now perhaps none)– to replace the Navy’s ever shrinking inventory of P-3C and EP-3E aircraft – continues to shrink as the cost of keeping the P-3s flying continues to increase.

Thus it is with dismay that one reads the latest message from Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Joe Campa. Campa is a man of intelligence, comprehensive training, great dedication, and vast experience. Despite these pluses, we have gotten a message so full of over-blown, tangled verbiage that one wonders what the hell he was thinking before he released it. It is clear to this reporter that the Navy has not learned from its wasteful past foray into “Total Quality Leadership.” More on this in a later article.

On 29 January 2008 Campa released a message to senior enlisted regarding what he expects of petty officers first class (E-6; the equivalent of a Marine Corps staff sergeant). The Navy’s enlisted structure is unique in its making E-7s-E9s chief petty officers, who wear an officer’s khaki and distinctive cover and live a life apart in ways a Marine Corps gunnery sergeant never does from a staff sergeant. As a result, the first class petty officers are the senior people on board wearing sailors’ blue dungarees and the distinctive white “dixie cup” covers. The Navy, having gone through routine, periodic convulsions regarding how the differing ranks (enlisted and officer) are to be treated, issues such instructions every once in a while from whomever is in charge at the time.

At a time when mid-level petty officers are leaving the Navy in greater numbers because of the demands of war, the Campa message is clearly an attempt to let PO1s and the chiefs over them know that the Navy wants PO1s to both be and feel more valuable. Unfortunately, Campa’s message -- a good example of Deadly Bullshit Creep (DBC) – loses a lot. Here is the text, as reported in The Navy Times, followed by the translation:

1. First Class Leadership. First class petty officers are fully engaged deck-plate leaders who drive mission accomplishment daily. They lead adherence to Navy standard through personal example and commitment to teaching their sailors. They must challenge, mentor, and measure their division’s and command’s success through team performance and deck-plate results.

Translation: PO1s drive their shop’s efforts. They must look and act the part while teaching subordinates. They must ensure that results support the ship, its crew, and its mission.

2. Rating expertise. First class petty officers are developing experts who learn from their chief and train their division officer. They demand consistent procedural compliance and accuracy from themselves and those they lead.

Translation: good question. Are PO1s being developed as experts or are they developing others to be experts? The Times subsequently offers its translation, but that’s beside the fact. Whatever the case, they again need to ensure the performance of their subordinates.

3. Professionalism. First class petty officers are the Navy’s first-line professionals who execute the right things at the right time for the right reasons. Integrity governs all their actions, from leadership through watchstanding, and is the foundation upon which consistent mission accomplishment is built. Their commitment to our profession is seen through dedicated self-improvement and a passion for excellence in themselves and all sailors.

Translation: First class petty officers are the senior on-the-spot shop specialists and instructors and are expected to act the part. Professionalism and absolute integrity is assumed and demanded

4. Communication. First class petty officers clearly communicate standards to the sailors they lead while consistently keeping the chain of command informed. The deck plate triad of division officer, chief, and petty officer first class is only effective with their input and deck-plate perspective.

Translation: First class petty officers must be good at both hearing what comes down the chain and passing information back up. They serve as the shop scuttlebutt coordinator.

5. Loyalty. First Class Petty Officers are visibly loyal to the command, sailors, peers, and themselves. They utilize opportunities to provide feedback and actively support guidance. They create circumstances which give their sailors the opportunity to succeed.

Translation: I find this item disappointing and a bit alarming. What the f%^& is an E-6 doing running your tron shop or gun mount or power plant if he or she does not consistently demonstrate loyalty? This paragraph should be short and sweet: ‘Every officer and sailor knows the essence and importance of loyalty, up and down. Nothing further needs be said on the topic.’

6. Heritage. First class petty officers are proud of our shared history. They take opportunities to weave it into daily events, so our sailors understand that a commitment to excellence is a time-honored tradition that connects our past while forging the foundation of our future.

Translation: Don't make our heritage sound boring. How about, '“USS Bonhomme Richard, USS Constitution, USS Monitor, USS Arizona, Torpedo EIGHT, USS Indianapolis, USS Pueblo, Patrol Squadron TWO SIX, the list goes on and on. These are your examples. Learn them. Live them.”

The Navy – indeed, the entire US military – has been through this sort of thing before. From the Z-Grams of the 1970s -- directives from then-CNO ADM Zumwalt, which skipped the entire chain of command and went directly to the sailors, destroying unit integrity – to Total Quality Leadership of the 1990s, which fruitlessly attempted to make chiefs and division officers accountants and meeting coordinators instead of war-fighters – the Navy periodically tries new things. That’s not a bad idea in general. But in a tough patch the Navy is ill served by trying to replace ships and aircraft with more words. It makes leadership look ineffective. And sailors know it.

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