Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Si vis pacem, para bellum

Lego Clone Wars, from Point Blank Media
I've been remiss in blogging recently for a lot of reasons.  Partially it's because I've been busy at work.  Partially it's because it's summer and the list of summer chores around the house never ends.  But mostly it's because of LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars.

Yup, a video game.  And not even a new one (Clone Wars was released in 2011).  But my son loves it, and I enjoy playing it with him.  So on more than a few days, I come home from work tired to a boy that wants nothing more than a hug and a chance to destroy Separatist Battle Droids with an RX-200 tank.

LEGO Clone Wars sort of sucks you in.  It follows the Clone War series (which is still on Netflix) in between Star Wars Episodes 2 and 3.  The game feels much grittier than the other LEGO Star Wars series, or at least as gritty as you can make a game where if you die, you break apart into individual LEGO blocks.  You find missions from a console onboard one of two capital starships while a constant fight scene plays in the background.  There are plenty of poorly-lighted maps with enemies popping out from the walls.  Some levels let you command groups of clones or droids, but lose too many and your forces will break and run away.  Even the music gets you into excited about upcoming battles.  LEGO Clone Wars tries hard to make you feel like you're in a galactic civil war, and it pulls it off marvelously.

And if your LEGO Clone Supply Officer didn't properly equip you, you can always improvise for weapons

Oddly, it does a better job simulating war than many staff commands.  I've struggled many times at my shore commands to feel like I'm contributing to the fight against our enemies.  I don't shoot bad guys, lead armies into skirmishes or pilot individual fighters.  If LEGO made a game about the clone staff officer that updated DRRS-N and MF&T documents, I don't think anyone would buy it.  Sadly, that makes LEGO Clone Wars more interesting than much of my time at a staff command.

Heck, I don't even wear a cool helmet.  But, my blue camo matches more than the white trooper gear!
Which is a problem.  A big one in fact that has been brewing for some time.  First we eliminated a lot of small commands, like the USS NOXUBEE.  These small commands gave officers the chance to learn to lead without placing billions of dollars of equipment in their hands all at once.  They taught many a lesson to LTs and LCDRs, including some Chiefs of Naval Operations.  Instead of replacing these small ships with others, we consolidated into bigger and bigger sea commands, until we were left with no LT and only a sparing few LCDR commands.  Practicing command became a pickup game you played as an O5.

Then we grew the staff command.  Not by a little, but by a lot.  We dissolved lots of small independent commands and lumped them into one.  We were told it was more efficient.  Never mind that Sailors weren't well served in large, faceless organizations.  Never mind that it made it next to impossible for our Commanding Officers to know their organization inside-out, thus raising the chance for problems to hide in the corners.  And all those cost savings?  Probably lost in the added paperwork shuffle that staffs are notorious for.

The final piece seems to be an unholy focus on everything not warfighting.  We create the most well package GMT products, but can't find money for training.  We spend millions designing new uniforms that we don't need, but won't invest in updating our FITREP and EVAL system, NavFit98a.

Still screwing up your EVALs since 1998!  How it survived the Y2K bug is beyond me.
All of this combines to make it hard to talk about war seriously.  Think about it: how many times does someone stand up and say "Warriors" and you just want to roll your eyes. 

Unless you're in a sandy place hunting bad guys, your day job feels like...a day job.  Sailors signed up for a career in something bigger than themselves. Instead, they are stuck behind a desk while lobbyists tell supposedly pro-military Congressmen to cut more benefits to pay a premium for the F-35 and LCS.

Are we surprised that the more we tell Sailors that what they do isn't special (by comparing it to the civilian sector) nor impactful (paperwork), the more they quit?  The more time we spend focused on military compensation and not winning the multitude of small conflicts we are in, the more it drags on our Sailors, and the more they feel like just another clone entering their inputs into DRRS-N, where they will promptly be ignored.

We should be excited about "Warrior" talk.  We should be excited about the Navy's mission.  We should talk about warfighting on a daily basis.  And for every nay-sayer, we should be pointing out that our enemies don't rest, and our vigilance is required to keep them at bay.

We should be preparing for war, because it's coming.  Whether it's coming to our doorsteps, our coastline or distant seas, it's coming.  The question is, are you (and your staff) ready for something more than a paper drill?