Battleland

No More Bad Commanding Officers?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Navy photo / MCS 1st Class Hana'lei Shimana

Commanding any of the Navy's fleet of nearly 300 ships is the most challenging assignment the sea service has to offer.

The headline in the June 18 Navy Times that arrived in my mailbox screamed NO MORE BULLIES, DRUNKS, & PLAYBOYS. It went on to detail Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert’s “tough new rules” for screening for command.

In addition to mandatory attendance at the two-week Command Leadership School, the screening includes passing a written test, sitting through an oral board, and receiving an informal evaluation (360-degree assessment) from peers and subordinates. The command qualification and screening will be required of all new command officers (COs), both ashore and at sea, by June 4, 2013.

This mandate comes as a result of an increase in the number of commanding officers being relieved for cause, thus the “bullies, drunks, and playboys” reference in the headline. I guess those folks just never got around to reading Navy Regulations, 1990, which states:

The Commanding Officer and his or her subordinates shall exercise leadership through personal example, moral responsibility, and judicious attention to the welfare of persons under their control or supervision. Such leadership shall be exercised in order to achieve a positive, dominant influence on the performance of persons in the Department of the Navy.

Command-qualification requirements are not new. Surface Warfare Officers have had command-qualification requirements for years…it hasn’t helped much, seeing that most of the commanding officers who get relieved are…Surface Warfare Officers. Although much of the past command-qualification process ensured the person was technically qualified for the job, the problem with the recent spate of firings is mostly for leadership issues. Or lack thereof.

But I wonder if the new rules for command screening and qualification will be able to sift out the “bullies, drunks, and playboys?” A two-week leadership course within a command-training pipeline of four to six months or more, prior to taking over a ship, cannot erase 15 years of poor leadership performance.

While a good leader may take something away from the course, or reiterate what he or she already practices, the time for a correction of leadership problems must occur much earlier in a naval officer’s career.

In the case of Holly Graf, for example, there apparently were plenty of reasons to counsel her on her leadership skills while she was an executive officer (XO). But her lack of skills in that area must have started much earlier in her career. If her COs had counseled her properly, or at all, perhaps she would have been a success story instead of one of the bullies.

I think another part of the problem with command screening is that it recently changed, and is still in transition.

Previously, there were separate screenings for XO and CO, the tours were separated by an interim shore tour, and the promotion to command was not a given. I always thought the shore tour was a time to de-stress from the rigors of being an XO before the even more stressful job as CO.

Although the XO runs the daily activity of the ship, and makes sure all goes according to plan, “The responsibility of the commanding officer for his or her command is absolute…” according to Navy Regulations. Which means that the CO is ultimately responsible for everything that goes on, good or bad. Thus, the CO gets the credit, or the blame.

The “fleeting up” from XO to CO began in 2009, when the surface community changed to the aviator’s model, in which the executive officer automatically “fleeted up” to command after a successful 18-month tour.

It seems to me that most of the problems with the firing of shipboard commanding officers happened after that major policy shift. Perhaps a proverbial “time out” from command is needed to give an officer time to contemplate the lessons learned of being an XO prior to taking command.

One can’t really do that if one day you are the XO, and the next day the CO. Your focus also has to shift from the tactical running of the ship to the strategic perspective of taking care of the ship and its personnel. It’s a hard shift to make overnight.

I do think the proposed 360-degree assessment — being graded by subordinates, as well as superiors — is a positive step. I suspect most officers have no idea how their subordinates view them, and they are afraid to ask.

But one thing is sure. Even though 99% or so of Navy commanding officers are doing a great job, there does need to be a better system for finding that small number of officers who continue to make the Navy look bad through their poor leadership.

14 comments
ByondPolitics
ByondPolitics

The Navy is playing lip service to the issue but not dealing with it.  Based on my experience, I doubt that 99% of the commanding officers are just fine... I've watched the Navy ignore evidence of the promiscuous and corrupt behavior of one submarine CO for years. Admirals not only knew about it but they rewarded him with a second command at sea. 

By ignoring this,  they give a license to officers that it's okay to be a  sexual predator.  

Why does it matter? Because he lied every single day for at least three years to hide his double life and that leaves him vulnerable to blackmail. Because if he lies that easily, effectively, and often for his own benefit, it's not clear when he can be trusted or when he's lying to the Navy. Because "pillow talk" to strangers in foreign ports is a potential security risk. Because, as a leader, his behavior encourages sailors to behave in the same way and that destabilizes families which leads to unnecessary drama that is detrimental to the command. Because someone who blatantly  ignores the rules and structures of society and of the Navy can not be relied upon. Because a sexual predator should not be in command of young women.

LevonTostig
LevonTostig

I'm not sure I'd want to go into combat with someone who wasn't a bully.  Actually, I'm pretty darn sure I wouldn't be going in to combat with someone like that: he'd be wetting himself at the line of demarcation.

Being a playboy or a drunk are also signs of risky behavior - the exact kind of behavior necessary to win battles.  That *is* what the armed forces are for, right?  Winning?

It seems to me the Navy has opted for a kinder, gentler fleet, and for COs who blindly follow their orders, utterly unwilling to exercise their own initiative (aka, "risk taking") when the opportunity calls for it.  That they have a fleet made up of whining twits who grew up in schools where bullying was heavily discouraged... well, that's enough to drive any *man* (not necessarily the class of males we have roaming the world today) to drink.

I wonder, too, why spouses aren't also given the directive to not be alcoholics or promiscuous?  Seems a bit one-sided, doesn't it?  Or, is the stress of staying in a nice, safe home, stateside, somehow more stressful than being at sea?

worth_every_cent
worth_every_cent

The human potential for leadership is not an evenly distributed characteristic. No amount of training will repair fundamental flaws. As a starting point, one can not assume timely intervention will prevent future failure. One could just as readily assume that early intervention would result in no future opportunity, intervention that is preventitive rather than corrective. Holly Graf may have had quite a different career had superiors taken early notice of her command qualifications.

servewithhonor75
servewithhonor75

My experience has been that subordinate evaluations are either superfluous or angst promoting.  As a sailor, I as provided the golden opportunity to serve under outstanding leadership from Captains/Admirals  Holloway, Mack, Kent,  Frederick J. Harlfinger II, Julian T. Burke Jr., William H. Rogers and Paul H. Speer.  These leaders of our naval forces during the Vietnam period were above reproach.  The tradition of the U.S. Navy is the evaluations of operational commanders are the best determination of future leadership.

Lynda  Chambers
Lynda Chambers

@servewithhonor75:disqus I don't think they meant the magazine. I'm making $86 an hour working from home. I was shocked when my neighbour told me she was averaging $95 but I see how it works now. I feel so much freedom now that I'm my own boss. This is what I do,..NDOQESB.Tk

Promontorium
Promontorium

"cater to the malcontents and self appointed PC policemen". What a horrible view you have of virtually everyone in the Navy. If you are reviewed by both above and below, you're going to get a more accurate assessment. Despite your absurd notion that every Sailor in the Navy is out to stab their immediate supervisor in the back, it's usually a lot more personal than that.  There are an extreme few number of "PC police" as you put it, I wouldn't imagine more than 1 per small boy. It's not like a review from a subordinate will then turn people into morons without perspective. 

 You premise is faulty at its most basic. MORE than any other institution, the military promotes from within. Those same people you think are idiots who couldn't possibly evaluate someone are the same people being evaluated. There is hardly a divide, except the chasm between Chiefs and JOs and if you can't trust the Chiefs to accurately gauge the JOs, well, you just an idiot, they're backbone of naval experience.

 There is a growing problem with the modern Navy and it is kiss ass wimps whose only focus is getting promotions and looking good in front of their superiors. They don't actually have to be good, and usually looking good takes priority over being good. Being able to report that your immediate supervisor is a kowtowing wimp who never stands up for his people and doesn't know how to do his job would be an excellent way to kick some of these slacking senior enlisted and officers in the butt. It should also help the individual improve (as evals are meant to do).  

 You refer to undermining "command authority" only the CO has that. I don't think that's the same thing. The CO's relationship in the Navy is very different. While the admiral stops by far less frequently than anyone else's boss, and the CO has more authority than anyone, including his own admiral in many situations.  I don't even know how to address "drinking and dating". A CO is going to be rather on in their years for the most part. There's a difference between enjoying alcohol on occasion and dating, and acting like a 20 year old at the closest bars. 

6 years in the Navy, 2002-2008.  Served on 3 ships of 3 classes. 

Promontorium
Promontorium

I got out of the Navy 4 years ago and even back then I was hearing about potentially being reviewed by your subordinates. It's too good an idea to be allowed. Basic fact is you can be an effective XO and a terrible Captain. XO's deal much more with the officers and crew, and are less like diplomats and ship commanders. The XO is usually the "bad guy", and the CO is everyone's friend. Somehow it always gets spun that way anyway, the CO having to ask the XO permission if we can all get off work an hour early.

Danyz
Danyz

Being graded by subordinants may seem like a good idea, but in reality it is part and parcel of the McDonaldization of the U.S. Navy. Commanders will now have to cater to the malcontents and self appointed PC policemen on their ships - thus undermining their command authority. As for the drunks, playboys, bullies part, what a CO does in his free time has traditionally been his own business. Drinking and dating are part and parcel of a military lifestyle, supposing the CO is single, that is. PS "Bully" I gather from the tone of these "reforms' refers to an unneutered male. Maybe something along these lines is in the works too?

sscarzz
sscarzz

So...... No more Taco night?

Rumionemore
Rumionemore

What's the deal with no Playboys? The guys on naval ships aren't going to be happy with magazines like The New Yorker or Atlantic. Yes, PB objectifies women, but the women have agreed to being objectified.

Promontorium
Promontorium

HA HA HA WHAT? Don't you know what a playboy is? The magazine is named after the same thing this article refers to.  A playboy is a "ladies man", a man who gets a lot of "play" with the women. Hugh Hefner is THE playboy of Playboy magazine. They are saying they don't want a Captain who's seen as sleeping around and being sleazy, picking up random women (or men) port to port. 

Rumionemore
Rumionemore

Uh, yeah - I think most people over the age of 11 know what a playboy is. I didn't know if was military slang. Out of boredom, I guess, or a way to bond, those people make up their own language. I think it's time all branches of the military set up higher expectationa for all troops who are living off taxpayers and representing the U.S. wherever they are. They are volunteers, which I appreciate, but this means no one forced them to join. Maybe they're learning to be Secret Service or CIA agents with their current bad behavior.

AngryBuddha
AngryBuddha

I don't think they meant the magazine.

Rumionemore
Rumionemore

I believe you are correct. Maybe it's military speak - or naval, specifically - and they will know what it means. That they're tightening rules is a positive step. An image that flashes back to taxpayers back home is that there's a lot of down time for people throughout the military - especially those not in or near war zones. This said, I would not trade places with them.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,105 other followers