Thursday, January 8, 2015

A response to "US Navy Chief Petty Officer Initiation Ill Advised"

With all the hoopla about CPO 365, I was a bit surprised to have this article about CPO 365 being canceled forwarded to me:

It's an opinion piece by retired Master Chief Bill Randall.  Bill, if you're reading this, thank you for your service.  I did enjoy the parts of your article explaining some of the time-honored traditions of CPO Initiation (now called CPO 365).  I can attest that at least some of that is still happening from what little bit of the training I've seen.  But I think you're article misses the point in a lot of places.

1. In the aftermath of the “Tailhook” incident at the Las Vegas Hilton (1991), the Navy had a stand down in training to reassess its core policies & objectives. One result was a significant change in the Navy core values which were (at that time): Honor, Loyalty and Tradition.  Because of the “tradition” of the Naval aviation convention in Las Vegas, and the fact that many officers were “loyal” and refused to snitch about the Tailhook incident, the core values were eventually changed to: Honor, Courage and Commitment. The new core values are excellent. But the unfortunate implication of Tailhook was that the Navy needed to get away from many of its former traditions.

If I had to pick something to compare CPO training to, Tailhook wouldn't be my first choice.  You're exactly correct, the Navy changed the Loyalty part of the core values.  If by "snitch" you mean testify or tell the truth, sure.  Did lying about what happened at a glorified party become a requirement to be a Naval Officer?  Don't we tell enlisted and officer alike to tell the truth, even if it hurts?  Because your writing implies that these officers are snitches because they didn't tell the truth about the sexual assault on 90 service members and that the changing of Core values was a bad idea. 

Now, I will agree that there was a bit more of a witch hunt in the aftermath of Tailhook than may have been required.  I know people that got letters of reprimand that weren't involved in anything there.  However, to compare Tailhook and the changing of Navy Core values to the decline of CPO Initiation is a bit of a stretch.

2. There will be many who are unpersuaded by this argument and will not support the CPO initiation process. “The process (say they) was a relatively dark chapter in our Navy’s history. We, in our technologically-advanced military, can ill-afford to revert back to archaic and backwards practices.”

So I tried hard to find this specific quote and I couldn't.  You don't reference who said it or in what context.  If I remember correctly, Abraham Lincoln once told us to not believe everything posted on the Internet.  Assuming it's true, I'd bet the reference is to beating the living crap out of people during initiation.  Or perhaps it talked about the people dieing or almost dieing during initiation process.

I know a little bit about getting beaten.  I went through SERE school in preparation for flying onboard the EP-3 during combat missions.  SERE wasn't fun, and at times I honestly thought someone might no kidding physically hurt me.  But I never had any lasting physical injuries from it.  More importantly, when we had someone pass out because she wasn't drinking enough water (she was hiding that from the staff), it wasn't 2 minutes before an EMT sprung out from nowhere and got an IV in her.  The point of SERE school was to train us how to survive evasion and resist interrogation, NOT to beat the crap out of us and kill or seriously maime someone for life.  The EMT was on station to ensure that...much like the MCPONs requirements placed on the different phases of CPO 365.  What I believe the MCPON saw was that CPO training had become a lot of beat down with no training value, and he took steps to change that.

Additionally, adding safety feature in training makes us smarter and more effective.  Do we really want to send a CACO to that young ladies house and tell her parents she died in training?  As realistic as we want training to be, we don't need people to die, whether it's in SERE or CPO training.  Yes, we can ill-afford to go back to having people die in training and losing the investment we made in that Sailor.

3. Now that the modified CPO induction process is in place, should we now amend one of the long standing objectives of the Navy Chief: “Train junior officers” as a follow up?  You have to admit that if all it takes to be a Navy CPO is leadership classes and a pinning ceremony, shouldn’t that task now be exclusive to the Officers’ Wardroom?

So I had to reread this a few times to figure it out, and I'm still confused.  Is it implying the Wardroom isn't training junior officers?  As a LCDR, I have multiple protegees, and I have mentors ranging from CDR to retired admirals.  I haven't always gotten support at every command I went to, but that's a product of the circumstances, not necessarily the Navy's Officer Corps in general.  I'd guess there are similar issues in the various Chief's Messes.

Is it implying that officers have nothing but leadership classes and a fancy pinning ceremony?  Using myself as an example, besides a four year electrical engineering degree, I've gone to school to run a nuclear power plant, nuclear submarine, Tomahawk missile, and various SIGINT equipment.  All of that training was technical, and in some cases I had training that none of the enlisted Sailors had.  I'm not the only one, plenty of other officers have a better technical understanding of their jobs then the enlisted that work for them.

Or is it implying that somehow after a "proper" CPO initiation the Chief is magically created?  I highly doubt that.  As an Ensign, I was a smart guy, but a terrible leader, and I had to grow into that role.  In some ways, I'm still growing into that role.  To imply that somehow one magic event transforms you into the perfect leader is foolhardy at best and dangerous at worst.  Leadership development is a lifelong process.  That's why continued mentorship and training (hence the whole CPO 365 concept) is imperative to truly build leaders.

"To develop great leaders we must have a training process that is ongoing in a Sailor's career," he said. "If everything we do starts and stops with leadership, then every Sailor will benefit from a more effective leader."

4.  It is the hope of this retired U.S. Navy Master Chief that the Chief of Naval Operations, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, and all cognizant decision makers consider taking another look at this new policy to determine if it is possible to salvage and reinstate the valuable essentials of the CPO induction and initiation process. Battle Stations in Boot Camp should not be the crowning event of a Navy Senior Enlisted’s career. Rather, it should be the time honored and properly conducted CPO initiation process.

If CPO Initiation is the pinnacle of your career, you are setting your sights very low.  I loved driving a submarine, flying in an EP-3E and leading a 200+ department.  I will cherish those moments forever, and I'll tell sea stories to my grandchildren about them someday.  But they'll probably never be my crowning achievement.  If the best thing in your career is something that happened to you then I feel truly sorry for you.

I've watched a few Chief's pinning ceremonys now and worked with a few new Chiefs.  I've seen how they talk about the process, and it leaves a positive impact on them.  But I never felt like it's the best thing they ever did.  The ones that were true successes took what they learned over their career and built something with it.  I watched one Chief take a struggling division of bottom achievers and whip it into shape, making it the star of my department and something I openly bragged about to my XO.  I watched another go from barely writing English to writing a command award that received no corrections from me, the XO or the CO and won a prestigious award from our Flag Officer, part of the writeup appearing on!  I've watched time and again how Chiefs have turned around "bad" Sailors and inspired excellence at the deckplates.  The key is that NONE of these Chiefs let initiation be the pinnacle of their careers.  All of them looked forward to building the next best thing and effecting real change around them, no matter where they served.

5. Bill donned the CPO uniform for 16 of his 27 years of active service, and transferred to the Fleet Reserve on January 1, 2002.

The last part is not even part of the article, but it's important to highlight.  The Navy now is very different from the one Mr. Randall helped build.  We now set records for deployment times.  Our "shore duty" is served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There aren't anymore conscripts in the Navy.  Many enlisted Sailors enter in with bachelors degrees, so the attitude of "Chief knows best, no questions asked" doesn't work anymore.  Our equipment is constantly changing as is the threat.  It's not sufficient to know the Russian order of battle, our threats range from emerging countries like the PRC to terrorist groups that can strike at any time.

It's an uncertain time that will naturally question the "why" of many of our traditions.  But our traditions have always changed.  We no longer assign enlisted to be aides to junior officers and pay them a dollar (hence the silver dollar salute).  We don't use a cat-of-nine tails.  We've adopted joint doctrine to make our services operate with the Army and Air Force, and for all the criticism it's received, it makes us the most effective at conducting combat operations anywhere in the world, such that other countries simulate it with deadly effectiveness.

I also challenge the notion that it was somehow better back in the day.  We lost Sailors at an alarming rate to drunk driving and suicide.  We had gangs on ships, and we stationed Marines on carriers and battleships to protect the Commanding Officer from his own Sailors.  Most Sailors didn't have a high school diploma, and there wasn't a push to better educate them.  It was a crazy time, but the Navy prevailed in the end, in part due to the efforts of Mr. Randall.  But to compare it to now and lament that somehow we're not up to snuff is ludicrous.  There has always been harsh judgement passed on the upcoming generation, but it's typically not founded in truth. 

Mr. Randall, I applaud your service and thank you for the Navy you gave us.  This next generation of Sailors are already pushing that Navy to new heights, be it on the sea, the land, in the air, or now in cyberspace.  It's not going to look the same as when you were in it, which is why the MCPON changed CPO Indoctrination to the CPO 365 program.  It won't look the same because the Navy today is better than the previous decade, and it's going to be better in the future, adapting to meet the next threat.  It'll be made better because of the people in charge, specifically the Chiefs that will help lead it against our enemies, wherever they may be in the years to come.