EMALS: Launching the Navy into the Future

I recently had a piece on the Navy’s Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) installed on the USS GERALD R. FORD (CVN-78) published on the Defense News website.  The system uses electromotive force instead of steam to launch carrier-based aircraft.  I recommend you give it a read, rather than repeating everything here.  But the bottom line is if we expect aircraft carriers to be relevant in 2050 and beyond ( CVN-78 will still be in service in 2070) then the Navy must invest in this type of technology.  Steam got us through the 19th and 20th Century, but it’s not going to get us to the 22nd Century.

Here’s the link to Defense News.


Launch ’em

This was the title of a 16mm movie that was popular in the mid-50’s, which was a humorous look at flight operations onboard a US Navy aircraft carrier. There’s probably not one grey-haired (or bald), retired Naval Aviator who hasn’t seen it. It comes from an era in which all professional and social life at sea revolved around the squadron Ready Room. It was your office, flight briefing and debriefing center, lounge and movie theater.

Pilots aboard the USS BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA-31) n the South China Sea, pilots prepare for their first combat mission, March 1967. Photographed by Chief Journalist R.D. Moeser, USN

The movie was required event for any officer not on watch or SIQ (Sick in Quarters). As Squadron Duty Officer, you had several “duties”…keeping the flight status board updated, making sure the briefs were on time, doing the Skipper’s bidding, and picking the movie. In those days, movies were doled out by the Ship’s Movie Booth, based on squadron priority. The priority rotated among the Ready Rooms so that each Duty Officer had a chance to pick a decent flick and salvage the day.

Of course there were rules:

  • The Flag Mess always got first pick and could seize any movie at any time.
  • Movies had to be returned with the reels rewound or the offending Ready Room would be kicked to the bottom of the list
  • Never, Never anger or question the Sailor manning the movie booth
  • Never swap movies between Ready Rooms (known as Hot Reeling)
  •  Reels must be shown in the correct order
  • A spare bulb must be available at all times
  • The sound system must be checked before the movie
  • The Movie Booth could be bribed with appropriate swag if you were at the bottom of the list

With respect to the movies, the Duty Officer also had custody of the “Skinny Scope” (CinemaScope) lens, so that you were not forced to watch the move with all the characters looking like coneheads.  The Duty Officer was also charged with the solemn duty of maintaining the movie log, a compendium of reviews and record of recent movies watched.  One always carried the movie log with them to the movie booth to assist in picking the next feature film. I can remember in VA-65 we had an elaborate point system for grading movies…1 point for each death, 1 point for a train, 5 points for nudity, 1 point for a cowboy, and some which are probably not wise to mention.

I’m not sure what happens now when the air wing is at sea.  Movies are on the ship’s TV system.   I doubt if there’s a 16mm projector anywhere onboard.  I’m pretty sure the Movie Booth is history.  And thankfully, Squadron Duty Officers can focus on more important duties than picking the movie.

P.S.  Don’t ask me why, but I still have a copy in 16mm format.  Any Ready Room out there that wants to borrow it, is welcome to it…..just make sure you rewind it before returning!

And now for your viewing pleasure:


Brave New World

Happy New Year to all.  I thought I would dash off a quick note to let you all know that I haven’t stopped writing articles, but it was a busy end of year and I just couldn’t find the time.  Given all the food for thought out there now, I promise to do better.  There’s several things that have flashed into my mind as potential topics to write about:numbers

What’s up with the Navy’s new number, 355?  I wish them luck in selling that one…mostly because it’s in direct violation of Crenshaw Rule of Primes, which states that any number sent to Congress must be a prime number in order to give the “illusion of analysis”.  Numbers ending with even numbers or zero?…..not satisfying or credible.  Now 353?????  That’s a number!!! See…. you, too, think a 353 ship Navy is far more achievable that a 355?????   Too many fives….

The Navy’s newest and costliest and most technologically advanced ship had to be towed while in the Panama Canal?   Nahhhhh. Can’t be.  This must be an example of the “Fake News” craze.  Come to think of it, I think I read about that in The Onion, my go-to source for factual information.  Seriously, I can’t

 (U.S. Navy photo by Liz Wolter/Released)
(U.S. Navy photo by Liz Wolter/Released)

help but think about my days in the Pentagon when we decided to save some money by piggybacking our EP-3 aircraft replacement program on an Army aircraft program (I can’t remember the name) to save some money.  Turns out the Army put so much stuff on the airplane it was too heavy to fly and they had to move to another airframe…..zeroing out any savings we might have achieved.  We used to laugh about it and say the Army forgot to put in one KPP (Key Performance Parameter), the ability to fly!!  So I guess in the case of the DDG-1000, we forgot to include a KPP which required it to steam around unaided.  Oh well……..

Or how about this one?  President Elect Trump bypassed the entire acquisition bureaucracy to personally negotiate for new POTUS jet and convened what must have been a JROC of ONE and decided Super Hornets might be a better way to go…..not JSF. So much for DoD 5000. I wonder if the new Super Hornets will have gold leaf relief tubes? maybe marble cockpit deck? We all know that the Congress was not happy with the procurement  hierarchy in OSD, but I’m not sure this is what they had in mind.  To be sure, the process is complicated but in the interest of learning, here’s the process in a nutshell.














Hmmmm…seems simple enough….


No daily intelligence briefing? What about the hundreds, if not thousands of analysts, spies, prognosticators, and intel pogues that labor so hard on “the Book”?  And despite their numbers, the product isn’t always as accurate as we might hope…WMD in Iraq?  Where did ISIS come from? officecubeI think there are just too many folks in the intel world these days, so this might be an opportunity for a intel force structure review….oppps, I forgot that it’s impossible to “follow the money” in the intel world and so we will never know how big that Empire really is. As my granddaughter used to say when she was three, “I can’t know that.” I’m thinking  that if enough people are writing enough stuff, they will probably write just about anything.  I believe that in the Pentagon every possible combination of numbers and letters have been put on enough Power Point slides that there are no new ones to be made.  (See my Powerpoint thoughts) So I think one could infer that if we had
enough analysists typing on enough keyboards, we could prove the Russians, or the Chinese, or extraterrestrials are hacking into our political process. We just have too many people in intel IMHO.

Finally, here’s a link to a good article by Sandra Erwin at NDIA on what’s in store for 2017. You might even find a quote or two from me.

I will get hot on writing on these these topics and if any of you have some ideas, feel free to shoot them to me.   It’s going to be an interesting ride in 2017 and I am looking forward to it.




Where is, repeat, where is Task Force Thirty Four?

That WW II message was sent by Admiral Nimitz to Admiral Halsey in support of Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, Commander of landing forces seizing the island of Leyte in the Pacific.  Admiral Halsey had fallen for the Japanesse ruse, diverting most of his carriers and battleships 200px-Nimitz_and_Halsey_1943supporting the invasion to chase the Japanese decoy Northern Force, leaving Admiral Kincaid’s forces in the lurch.  Famously, however, when the message was delivered to Halsey, the phrase “the world wonders” was added by mistake.  Halsey took it to be an insult,  creating bad blood between the two. There are some pretty funny accounts about “Bull” Halsey blowing his top when he read the message. Here is the actual message:


I just returned from the annual American Society of Military Comptrollers (ASMC) Professional Development Institute (PDI) in New Orleans.  It was an outstanding opportunity to learn about the state of the art in the DoD budget and accounting.  Well done to Executive Director Al Runnels and his staff!!!  This year I reckon there was north of 2000 folks from throughout the DoD Financial Management profession….Army, Air Force, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Defense Agencies and even the US Coast Guard.  Leadership and rank-and-file throughout DoD, from the Honorable Mike McCord, the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) on down, gathered to consult, confer and otherwise hobnob with their fellow budget wizards.  In fact, I dare say that most of the senior Financial Management leadership from the services and defense agencies was there. There was only one thing missing: the Navy.

Yep, that’s right. The Navy chose not to participate.  Given that every other service, defense agency, and the OSD staff decided it was important to send their people, I can only assume that either the Navy thought that its people (personnel in DoD speak) didn’t need the training offered at the PDI or that despite the need for training, barring their attendance was the safer or smarter move.  So the Navy and USMC financial managers sat on the sidelines while the remainder of their counterparts in DoD heard for Mr. McCord; the Honorable Jamie Morin, Director of CAPE; Mark Reger, the Deputy Comptroller of the United States and numerous other senior officials. They attended required FM certification training, attended workshops, participated in a whole day of service-specific training and  conducted community service projects. In the interest of accuracy, there were a handful of Navy folks there, but only if they were actually presenting a workshop or receiving a national-level award.

Why did the Navy choose not to participate?  Well, it is true that in recent years “conventions” and other large-scale events have come under scrutiny because of some very bad decisions made by some not-so-good leaders.   But checks and balances were put into place to ensure legitimacy and need before approving such meetings.  All organizations in DoD went through the same process of evaluation.   The PDI was not given “blanket approval” by DoD and thus the leadership in each organization had to make the call on whether or not to send its people to this valuable training.  Obviously, Navy leadership uniquely decided this PDI was not in accordance with applicable rules and regulations and thus elected not to send its people.  Now those of you who are not familiar with the world of financial management might wonder why a PDI is needed. Here’s the scoop:

Most DoD financial managers are required to receive about 40 hours of continuing professional education annually.  Those who have achieved the coveted Certified Defense Financial Manager (your humble author among them) are required to take 40 hours annually to retain their certification.  In addition, the DoD recently introduced a financial certification program aimed at increasing the professionalism of the FM workforce.  It’s a tiered program with each level requiring specific courses delivered by qualified personnel.  Once a certain level of qualification is reached,  there is a continuing education requirement similar to those above.  The highly specialized training required for the various certification levels is offered at the PDI, along with a variety of accredited courses that count toward annual training requirement.  I’m not quite sure how many hours it would be possible to knock out at the  PDI, but it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 20.  That’s half the annual requirement!

To make sure people actually attend the training, they are individually scanned in and out of training sessions and only given credit if they attend the entire session.  Each day begins at 07:00AM with breakfast and training sessions go on throughout the day until 4:40 PM.  Believe me, that’s a long day and I have yet to figure out a way to “beat the system” so I have to sit through the classes all day to get credit.  It’s not exactly a cake walk.  You can be sure people are actually getting the training.

Enough of that.  And now for the gorilla in the room:  Yes, it’s in New Orleans, but there’s no escaping the fact that PDI attendees are sequestered (I just had to use that word) for a good nine hours a day….No zooming up and down Bourbon Street, no clowns wandering around, no $26 cupcakes…it’s all business during extended working hours.  (This shouldn’t be surprising since it’s basically run by accountants, for accountants).  By the way, what’s the difference between an introverted accountant and an extroverted accountant?  The extroverted accountant looks at your shoes when he talks to you….Badda-Booom!

So I mentioned earlier that maybe the reason the Navy leaders chose not to send Navy and Marine Corps people to this training is that they don’t need it.   Well, you would be wrong if you made that assumption. I attended a session where the current numbers of people certified by service was presented and the Navy was just a sliver in the pie chart while all other services were big, fat pie slices just like your grandmother would serve.  So the Navy needs the training above all and they are obviously not getting it elsewhere.  In fact, given the workload of Financial Managers these days, it is really hard to find the time to take on-line courses.  Oh sure, there are on-line courses….and they are good for filling some portion of the requirement, but no matter what you say, nothing beats real-time, classroom training to allow for substantial interchange between students and instructors.  Would you rather have your dentist fulfill his annual professional training staring at the PC at home while drinking a martini or attending a gathering of dental professionals with an opportunity to talk to pioneers of the latest in the dental art and exchange views and techniques with his/her peers? When he/she says “Good thing I saw how to put in this implant on You Tube”, how would you feel??  or how about this:  “Oh yeah…..since you have to put in a 10 hour day at the office, just do that training in your spare time”……Right! Here’s an idea:  Why not do your training the next time we furlough you?  What’s the big deal?  We have posted classroom material in all the heads…..do some training while you do your business!!!  It’s all about being efficient!” Seriously folks, I do remember aircraft checklists being posted above the urinals and on the backs of the stall doors in the squadron head in order to make use of “spare time”!!!

Hey, Where did everybody go?

I know I don’t have the right to criticize and I apparently don’t have all the facts, so I recommend the reader of this tome (It’s longer than I wanted) consider these thoughts to be from an unqualified, uninformed source.  And if you were the decision maker, please don’t get all spun up.  The decision was yours to make and I respect your decision.  I just hope your staff did you the courtesy of making sure you had all the facts before you decided.  (You only know what they want you to know.)  I am confident that the Navy leadership can give you a much better reason for why they stayed away.  That not withstanding,  I  hope the Navy decides to participate next year so they can be a part of the team.  I know I was embarrassed that so few from my beloved Navy were there.   And just because the rest of the Services, OSD, Coast Guard, and Defense Agencies took just a little risk and sent their people to PDI,  doesn’t mean the Navy had to send its people to PDI(sigh, I can see my Mother saying that right now).  Maybe they didn’t have the money to send their people (even though everyone else did).  Maybe it wasn’t that important.   Maybe there was another budget drill going on.  Maybe they elected to spend the money on local training for the hundreds (if not thousands) of Navy FMers around the world.  I just don’t know.  But this I do know: when next year’s PDI rolls around I sure hope we don’t have to again ask, “Where is TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR the FM world wonders?”

GASP!!! Petroleum Products in the Water.

I couldn’t help but chuckle as I followed the saga of “petroleum products” in the Shaw and Logan Circle areas of DC over the past few days.  Those of you who have lived on a Navy ship (especially carriers) know exactly what I mean. Who among us hasn’t turned on the shower and basked in the smell of JP5 (Jet fuel used by Navy aircraft……basically expensive kerosene)? Heck, there was always a hint of kerosene in the water.  This is the principal reason that internal parasites are not a problem for Sailors……the hint of kerosene eliminates them.  (When I was a young lad growing up in the backwoods of Alabama, the standard remedy for worms was a teaspoon of kerosene. Check out the link) I’m sure there are a variety of other benefits, but I’m too lazy to look them up.  Back to the JP5 laced water.  oilslick We didn’t complain because we were glad to have water.  By the way, for you youngsters, there was no such thing as bottled water back then. In the days before the all nuclear carrier fleet, ships were all too frequently put on “water hours” to conserve fresh water.  Priority of water usage was First to the boilers, second to food, third to washing airplanes and finally to the crew for showers.  The way in which ships made fresh water back then was by distilling fresh water from seawater using the “Flash Evaporators.”  Even graduate engineering students had a hard time figuring out how those things worked ( and frequently they didn’t….hence “water hours”).  In fact, Chief Engineers would mortgage their souls for an individual who knew how to make the damned things work…They were usually some salty petty officer who had done nothing all his life but coddle and coax fresh water out of the mysterious machines.  These guys were the original “Scottie”, capable of performing all sorts of miracles with baling wire and silly putty .   We were always told that JP5 was in the water because during flight operations the carrier tended to stay in the same general area seeking the wind, and consequently we would crisscross the wake and suck up all the flotsam, jetsam, sewage, dumped fuel and who knows what else. It was also rumored that salt peter was put in the water (I’ll let you figure out why).

Other related issues also come to mind…Navy Showers.  Because water was scarce, one was required to take a Navy shower.  Here’s how to take a Navy Shower:

  1. Find shower with hot water
  2. Alternatively find shower with any water
  3. Dampen body with greasy water
  4. Soap up all your parts
  5. If water still available, rinse. Otherwise search for shower with water (preferably hot)
  6. Wipe soapy residue from body with towel

navyshowerThe alternative to a Navy shower was a “Hollywood” shower…..In order to luxuriate in a Hollywood shower, one had to do some prior planning and smuggle a regular shower head onboard.  Showers normally had a handheld jobber with a button one pressed to unleash a fine water mist.  These didn’t work too well because often there wasn’t enough water pressure to make the blasted things work.  Anyway, in order to enjoy a true Hollywood shower, one would remove the standard issue shower head and replace with the regular shower head, and assuming there was water, you could splash away…..At least until the Master at Arms (also know as the XO spies) caught you.  On one ship I was on, if the Master at Arms caught you taking a Hollywood shower, you had to carry around a rubber duck until you caught someone else taking a Hollywood….which you could then transfer to the most recent offender. I not too sure that the Navy still polices the showers, so this is probably not a problem now….In fact with unlimited amounts of nuclear power, reverse osmosis water plants and the like, I’m guessing water isn’t that much of a problem any more….

Enough of that.  Maybe on another slow news day I’ll write about more quirks of my past Navy life.


Anyway, here’s wishing you all the happiest of Holiday Seasons and a prosperous New Year.


One for the Price of Three!

Only in the DoD acquisition world would this sound like a good deal!  But before we cast too many arrows at the acquisition community, I must admit the idea is mine.  I developed this idea over the course of years of working in the Bizarro World of DoD ship financing.   You remember Bizarro? Bizarro It’s the world where everything is backwards….the name of the bizarro world planet is Htrae (so clever!) and the world is square.  As I recall, it was featured occasionally in Superman comics in the 1960’s. One of the mottos in Bizarro World was ” Us do opposite of all earthly things.”  Bizarro bonds were a hot item on Htrae because they were “guaranteed to lose money.”  So I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to make the analogy here.

As I learned during my time as Chief Resources and Requirements Officer for the Navy, the normal things you learned about economics don’t necessarily hold true when it comes to buying ships.  My initial experience was during my first year on the job.  We were working on balancing the budget and were about $400 Million off.  The staff proposed that we slide the purchase of a ship we were buying for the Army called the LMSR (contrary to popular belief, the Army moves primarily by sea, not air).  The price tag was about $400 Million and the staff had determined that we could stand to slide it a year.  “Sounds good to me!” I answered, happy at the prospect of putting a bow on the $130 Billion Navy budget and delivering it to OSD just in time for Thanksgiving.  By the way, that’s how you make sure that you don’t get rejected right away…..Submit something just prior to a big holiday so no one is around to grade your work.  This rule works in a variety of scenarios:

  • DoD generally drops significant RFPs just before holidays to force contractors to work feverishly at the expense of their families to get the proposal complete by some arbitrary deadline (which generally gets extended anyway).
  • The Congress always passes bills at the eleventh hour before big holidays, in hopes that the particulars will escape the media.  What’s more interesting? The details of the CR passed the day before Thanksgiving or the press conference where the President pardons the turkey?  Or maybe the 3 minute spot on the evening news which shows the neighbor’s Christmas lights display of 100,000 watts, synchronized to “All About That Bass.” I vote for the turkey pardon and the light show!!!!!(and sadly, so do most)
  • Controversial changes to Federal Register seem to always drop the day before a holiday in hopes that no one will notice.
  • My favorite, RFP’s released with 5 days to respond…(a favorite way to make sure the desired contractor wins)

Anyway, I’m sure you have your own sea story that would make mine look minor.  But back to the LMSR caper……

USNS Bob HopeA few days after the decision was made, the staff came back and noted that since we slid the ship a year, it’s going to cost more…..I don’t remember how much, but it was around $100 Million or so.  “Really?” I commented.  ‘Oh, yes,” came the reply, ” money will cost more the next year, we have shipyard loading issues that we will have to pay for, the cost of steel is going up, blah, blah blah.”  So I began to understand that the economics of shipbuilding were different.  I formulated The Shipbuilding Entropy Rule: “Nothing ever costs less.  NO matter what you do, it will always cost more.”  You buy less, they cost more.  You cancel the buy, you still have to pay the overhead.  You remove capability, it costs more to redo drawings.  Its all very counter-intuitive.  This became very clear to me during the following year’s budget build when the staff came back and said “We made a mistake.  We have to move the LMSR back to the original purchase year.”  “Fine,” I replied, “No harm, no foul.”  Sensing it wasn’t “Fine“, based on the furtive glances between the staffers (an admiral sees a lot of those looks in the Pentagon) I asked “What’s wrong?”  Turns out, if we moved the ship back into the original purchase year, it added another $100 Million to the cost!  Whadakknow?  We essentially did nothing and paid $200 Million not to do it!  That, my friends, is Bizarro accounting!

Anyway I could go on and on about this, but I want to get to the reason I chose the title of this article, One for the Price of Three.

The DDG-1000 (AKA CG(X), Arsenal Ship, Zumwalt Destroyer, DD21, DD(X), etc) was originally intended to have a buy of around 32 ships or so.  USS ZumwaltThey became so expensive and the requirements bounced around so much, we began advertising it as a fire support ship vital to the survival of the Marines during amphibious assaults.  As such, we only needed about 10-12, just enough to support the number of amphibious ready groups (ARGS) we had at the time.  The Marines were happy about that, even though they preferred to have 2 per ARG.  I even went over to the Hill with my Marine counterpart extolling the virtues of the DDG-21 as the perfect fire support ship for the Marines.  But once the Marines realized that the cost of the ship was so high that it would probably limit the amount of other stuff they could buy, they dropped it like a hot potato…..they would much rather have the 360 V-22’s than 24 DD(X)’s.  So in the space of about a month we changed our tune from”vital” to “not so vital.”  Now that they are $3 Billion a copy, we are only building 3 of them and I’m not sure there’s a real requirement out there.  As my Grandmother said when she got her first taste of champagne in one of those dinky champagne flutes at my son’s baptism, “That’s not enough to wet my whistle.”  So it is with DDG-1000 IMHO.  The real requirement as far as I can tell is to have something for Bath Iron Works to build ( they will build all three) so they can stay in business in order to address industrial base concerns.  Hence the title of the article.

I propose instead of spending $9 Billion for 3 ships we don’t need, why not pay the shipyard to build it, take it apart and then build it again?  It keeps them busy. The Navy doesn’t have to shoulder the Operations and Maintenance costs necessary to support a ship class of 3 ships, and we don’t have rustle up the personnel and training facilities which must be specially developed on this one-of-a-kind weapons systems.  Heck, we will save money by doing that!  Of course, this idea only works on Bizarro World.

That, by the way, is how Bizarro JosBanks works too.  You pick out one suit and pay for three!

What a world, what a world!


Leading and Following

I always hesitate to comment on such matters, but after reading the article by the Associated Press lead-follow buttonsregarding the relief of 16 Air Force officers involved in some fashion with nuclear weapons I decided I would offer a few thoughts.  My nose was already tweeked this morning after watching the “victory” speech by Virginia Senate candidate Mark Warner (as I write this, the race is still not decided, by the way) in which he says something about how the voters of Virginia have spoken and put him in the Senate…well, (very) slightly over half the voters in Virginia thought he was the best candidate…..I would be careful about yakking about mandates and the like with only a few votes more than the other guy.  To me the mandate is to be just as diligent about representing the other half of the Virginia voters as he is in representing the half that voted for him.  But as soon as he gets back on the Senate floor, he will do what all politicians do…..follow his leader.    So it occurred to me that in general, politicians are followers, not leaders.  They follow the will of their party, they follow the polls, they follow the money.  Very few of them actually lead.  Heck, even Speaker Boehner is as much a follower (to desires of tea party interests and the like) as is a leader.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m OK with that. They are supposed to be followers, aren’t they?……following the will of the people they represent.  They also tend to make lots of mischief when they “lead”.

In the military we expect everyone to be a leader to some extent and as one gets more senior, our expectations of them as a leader grow.  I’ve been to a few leadership seminars in my day and I know all the various combinations and permutations of this concept:

  • Leaders lead
  • A good leader knows how to be a good follower
  • Lead, follow or get out of the way
  • The scenery only changes for the lead dog of the pack
  • Servant leadership….A good leader is a servant to all
  • It’s good to be the King
  • All glory is fleeting (One of Gen. Patton’s favorite sayings)*
*( Or if you prefer,  Napoleon’s take:  Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever!)

And as a Three Star in the Pentagon I was always reminded that no matter how high and mighty you think you might be, there’s always someone above you to whose tune you must dance! In the end, everyone works for somebody, don’t they?

FishBack to the nuke thing.  One thing I knew as an Attack Squadron Commanding Officer: The quickest way to be relieved without question was to  score anything other than  an outstanding on nuke inspections. Consequently, I put my absolute best officers and enlisted personnel in those positions.  I assume the same is true in the Air Force, so that the absolute best must be assigned nuclear positions.  In that business, there is no room for error. Obviously some house cleaning was needed and the Air Force leadership did what they had to do.

The Navy also frequently makes the news for relieving  various leaders for all sorts of reasons.  I liked the way a former boss of mine, Admiral Vern Clark, used to answer questions about excessive reliefs of Commanding Officers.  He said the Navy sets the bar high for its Commanding Officers, holds them absolutely accountable for not only their own actions, but the actions of all under his/her command, and we make no apologies for that.  Amen.

Leadership is about accountability…accountability to your seniors,  accountability to those who work for you and those who you work with.  All too frequently politicians tend to be accountable to the wrong people or things….big money donors, party leadership, special interest groups, etc.  That’s another reason why they don’t necessarily make good leaders. (Yes there are some notable exceptions  and I am not suggesting that ALL politicians are not good leaders, but work with me here!)

So I propose that accountability is why we are blessed with so many good leaders in our Armed Forces.  So next time you read about someone in the military being held accountable, you should say to yourself, “That’s a good thing.”

But…..problems arise when the “followers” become the leaders….either because of their control of the purse strings or worse, because they fill a void left by leaders more interested in  following than leading.  Civilian control of our military is one of the fundamental principles of our democracy and I wholly endorse the concept.  Nothing distresses me more than when I hear someone from the Hill say that if our military wants it, then it must be good. After all, militaries fight great wars but they are not all that great at making policy.  They are only one of the instruments of national power (economic, diplomatic, informational, and military)  that the US can bring to bear.  All too often they tend to discount the value of other types of power because investments in them take money away from Defense coffers.  To be fair here, there is a great deal of writing on the use of other instruments of power in military doctrine, but I submit it is mostly theoretical and when money is at stake, all the rhetoric  goes out the window.  According to our Constitution, our political masters are the ones to make those judgments.  But our military also has an obligation to make sure their best advice is given to the “deciders.” Once they make a decision, the military’s job is to salute smartly and carry out the decisions.

It is a fine line, and I have the greatest respect for those in senior leadership positions who have the moxie to advise what they believe, not what they think their political masters believe.  It can cost a career.  Look what happened to Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki when he disagreed with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld  on the number of troops required to tame Iraq (in the end the General  was right, but never played the “I told you so” card)?  He was shown the door to the River Entrance at the Pentagon!  Can we ever really succeed in Syria without putting some number of troops on the ground? Will Afghanistan implode if we pull all our troops out?  Can we still have the world’s most capable military with sequestration?  I admire those who give sincere,  apolitical answers to these questions.  But then again they are leaders! Beware those who do otherwise.


“Where you stand, depends on where you sit.” Miles Law and related Maxims

I attended an evening affair recently with a well respected leader who reminded me that the old maximum “Where you stand, depends on where you sit” was actually memorialized by Rufus Miles of Princeton University back in the 70’s.Sit Stand Anyone who has ever been in a bureaucracy knows exactly what he means.  I myself am a slave to Miles Law.  And not only when I was lurking around the bureaucracy of the Pentagon, but even afterwards in my second career.  It’s not a bad thing, by the way.  In fact, if  you are to be a loyal member of any organization, you will be dealing with the outcomes of the Miles Law.  I recall my first job on the OPNAV staff as the Deputy N81 (Assessments).  At various meetings in the Pentagon the inevitable “What are they thinking in the Fleet?”, was heard time and time again.  We were sure they just didn’t understand the problems we were dealing with and their solutions seemed untenable.  Then I got back to the Fleet, and at just about every meeting I would hear, “What are they thinking in the Pentagon?”  And so it goes.  The point is ones perspective is always shaped by the environment, business or otherwise.  Once I retired from active duty and become a “contractor”, within a matter of a few months I just couldn’t figure out what my former colleagues in the Pentagon could be doing….They should be doing it our way!!!!

So remember when you are in the next meeting where you think your organization has the market cornered on the thinking on some issue, there are others out there just as passionate (and probably just as right) as you are.  Where you stand indeed depends on where you sit. Realizing that might make things go a little smoother.

Now for the six maxims related to Miles Law.  As you read them, I think you will find that they offer some invaluable insights into how to deal with your superiors and those who work with and for you.

Maxim #2.  The responsibility of every manager exceeds his authority, and if he tries to increase his authority to equal his responsibility, he is likely to diminish both.  The lesson here is don’t worry too much about matching power with responsibility.  It’s the way the system is designed and if you attempt to twiddle with it, you are asking for trouble.

Maxim #3Managers at any level think they can make better decisions than either their superiors or their subordinates; most managers, therefore seek maximum delegations from their superiors and make minimum delegations to their subordinates.  As a leader, you will be pulled in many directions and in order to be effective, you must delegate….the trick is knowing your people and their capabilities so you can delegate the right things to the right people and keep you focus on what you should be focused upon.

Maxim #4:  Serving more than one master is neither improper nor unusually difficult if the servant can get a prompt resolution when the masters disagree.  Boy can I relate to this one…In the military, we are often “Dual Hatted” or holding down more than one job with more than one boss. In fact, even with one job you can easily find yourself with more than one boss.  Keeping #4 in mind will help you in managing the expectations of both (maybe even several) bosses.  Communicate early and often with your bosses and make sure they all have the same version of the truth!

Maxim #5Since managers are usually better talkers than listeners, subordinates need courage and tenacity to make their bosses hear what they do not want to hear.  My observations are that managers have a monopoly on talking without listening.  Force yourself to listen…you will be surprised at what you hear.  This is true no matter the circumstances; whether you are on a cold call with a prospective client, or sitting in a community association meeting.  Too much talk, talk, talk…My advice………listen for a change.

Maxim #6:  Being two-faced–one face for superiors and one face for subordinates– is not a vice but a virtue for a program manager if he or she presents his or her two faces openly and candidly.  I have no idea what this means, but it sure sound profound.

Maxim #7: Dissatisfaction with services tends to rise rapidly when the provider of the services becomes bureaucratically bigger, more remote , and less flexible, even if costs are somewhat lower. Of all the maxims, this is one which is applicable in almost anything when it comes to bureaucracies, or even companies.  You have to constantly keep yourself in tune with your clients….refer to Maxim #5….., listening to what they have to say.  Ice Cream Cone Be vigilant that your organization is not morphing into the ubiquitous “Self Licking Ice Cream Cone”, existing not for providing services to clients, but for its own pleasure.  By the way, by far, my article on Self Licking Ice Cream Cones is and continues to be the number one article people view when visiting my web site.


So there they are…I thought it worth putting to paper because I think they are things that leaders need to be aware of as they go about leading from day-to-day.  If nothing else, I’ll bet each and every one of you Govies reading this have experience in all of these (even #6, whatever it means)

If you would like to read the famous paper by Professor Miles, here is a link to a site that will allow you to purchase a copy ($25).