The SEALs are being driven out, in part, by Navy leaders’ relentless social-issue focus. Not just SEALs either, although the original message, posted to US Naval Institute discussion board by a serving officer, noted that the SEALs have just had their worst retention year ever, with most of the naval special operations element’s junior officers saying no to staying in service. (Officer and enlisted first-term retention tend to show similar trends). Across the Navy’s warfare communities, two-thirds or more of qualified officers are exiting at the six-to-ten-year point, so unhappy with naval service that they leave one third to one half of a pension on the table (military pensions do not vest; there is no benefit for an officer or enlisted service member who leaves before 20 years).
What’s Got the Community Talking?
Commander Guy M. Snodgrass’s post, and the 24-page paper on which it’s based, mentions SEALs only in passing — Snodgrass is an aviator, and one who was on the rocket to higher command prior to writing this paper. It’s a well-written paper — he was ADM Greenert’s speechwriter before throwing his career away by questioning his lords and betters. (If you can’t download the paper from the website, you can get it here).
Snodgrass’s paper was then picked up by Rowan Scarborough, a Pentagon reporter who has excellent sources down there at the puzzle palace. Scarborough keyed on the social-issues aspect, which is a small part (as you can see) of a much wider-ranging paper. Scarborough, though, has a Beltway reach that the Naval Institute does not.
Snodgrass mentions enlisted problems from time to time, but his focus is on officer retention. He cites these as the main problems:
- prolonged high optempo leading to ever-increasing deployment lengths
- a perceived improving economy, offering attractive alternatives to career service
- the changing character of a younger generation, less tolerant of what the SAS calls “sickeners” and Snodgrass calls the Navy’s “harassment package,” and,
- loss of confidence in “senior leadership,” meaning political appointees and admirals who curry favor up and pass contempt down as if they were political appointees.
Snodgrass has a target-rich environment in looking at the Navy’s personnel problems and “harassment package,” and what makes it interesting to us is not just its SEAL angle, but that it also reflects the situation in the other services, although the Navy has some peculiarities, like its frequent public repudiations of commanding officers, and a ridiculous written exam for ship command that, far from the tactical grilling of the 19th-Century Royal Navy promotion boards, or Star Trek’s Kobayashi Maru challenge, focuses on petty regulations and personnel matters. “The Navy,” Snodgrass writes with palpable distaste, “has effectively produced quality commanding officers throughout its 239-year history. Officers are screened for command potential throughout their entire career…” The exam, then is “pro forma and provide[s] little value…” it’s an “administrative burden.” There are 2,500 pages of required reading for the exam, much of it dry administrative regs of no use to anyone but the Navy’s dominant personnel officers.
What’s in Your Harassment Package?
The command exam is a uniquely Navy ingredient. So are some others, like the Navy’s propensity to promote officers non-selected for command or other milestone ahead of the selectees. But some other elements of the Harassment Package are more universal to the services today.
- Unwillingness to listen to and act on officer and sailor feedback.
- The Orwellian Reduction of Administrative Distractions team under RADM Herman Shelanski that “needs to redirect their attention to the reduction of administrative distractions, not adding more into the Navy.”
- Explosive increase in meaningless and burdensome check-the-box annual training.
- Multiple low-quality, time-sucking and inconvenient personnel-management websites, with multiple independent logins, which defeat security by making sailors write down the numerous passwords.
- Limited educational opportunities, and promotional punishment for those who pursue them.
- Efforts wasted pursuing 100% solutions to insoluble problems, like suicide. This does not save the few who suicide but wastes millions of man-hours of the many who never will, and insults their intelligence into the bargain (repeat to the nth power for thou-shalt-not-rape classes, do-not-give-Boris-your-computer-password training, thou-shalt-not-drink, etc). Snodgrass observes that “The perception is that these efforts are not undertaken because they are incredibly effective, but rather because of significant political and public oversight.”
- Disinterest by senior leaders in, and nonavailability to lower-level leaders of, retention metrics. We’d expand that to “disinterest by senior leaders in subordinates, period.”
- Nonavailability of optempo information to officers and sailors. This could be trivially added to the leave and earnings statement (pay stub, for you civilians).
- Suppression of unit-level distinctive uniform items. “Everyone wants to be part of a winning team.” We would add that these kinds of traditions tend to evolve organically and they fail when there is an attempt to impose them from on high.
The whole thing adds up to this, in Snodgrass’s view: “We are competing with global demand to retain our best, brightest, and most talented officers – and we cannot afford to simply let them walk away.”
If it’s that, or change, what do you think Navy bosses are going to do?
He hit “send.” And Then What Happened?
What happened is that Snodgrass’s post went viral, in the Navy and armed services. The influential Commander Salamander blog covered it. We received it several times via various public and private SOF fora, and it’s still going around at least one senior-officer email chain. And, as mentioned above, Rowan Scarborough picked it up, focusing narrowly on the social-issues problem, which is a very small part of Snodgrass’s complaint array, although it is the major focus of the command right now. (The CNO’s personnel plan? He calls it his Diversity Vision for E-Ring buzzword compliance).
The consensus is that Snodgrass’s career has taken a hit, but he’s already screened for and enroute to the XO position at VA-195 in Atsugi. The Navy’s unlikely to solve the optempo problem anytime soon — their plan is to be Boxer the horse in Animal Farm, greeting expanded demands and shrinking ship totals with the mantra, “I will work harder.” Except, coming from the admirals in the E-Ring, it’s more like, “You will work harder.” How’d that work out for ol’ Boxer?
One of the senior officers commented:
Our military is no longer a fitting place for warriors. The good news is that warriors are not made by the military. Warriors are made by God and the parents and mentors He gave them in their youth. …. When freedom must be defended by warriors, they will come as they have throughout America’s history when tyrants were inside the wire. It will not be DoD that collects them as DoD no longer guards freedom. Warriors will not have DoD policy shoved up their asses as a prerequisite to defending their freedom. Their only prerequisite is the will to be free.
Every warrior today must question how his or her life is spent by the government. Is it to bring about an “Arab Spring” that elevates Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda for greater oppression of the Middle East? Is it to stand around in a clueless gaggle while our embassy is being overrun and our ambassador killed? Is it to be subjected unarmed to the jihad of an enemy wearing our uniform, allowed to knowingly communicate with muslim terrorists until the day he pulls the trigger on our soldiers while shouting “Allahu Akbar”?
Part of the problem lies in utter misunderstanding of the warrior ethos, honor and motivation on the part of BUPERS (that big barn of booger eaters). Warriors don’t give a rat’s ass about social issues. They join the military to bring a credible deterrence to those who would encroach our freedom. They don’t seek to die for their country needlessly, but they are willing to die for their freedom if required. That’s what separates warriors from jihadists. The warriors are being driven off….
The comments at Salamander went in another direction, as his readers are disproportionately the very junior officers whose voting-with-feet was the subject of Snodgrass’s study:
As an Officer who left the Navy before going into zone before the next promotion board, I can speak to the reason why I left the Navy. The requirements to support the diversity bullshit, and the NKO mouse and click cover your ass trafficking in humans and red light greenlight crap, simply were out of sort for me. I didn’t NEED this training and I didn’t NEED to pretend I supported it when I don’t. MY Sailors were well led. They were insulated by me from a lot of the bullshit. It was my job to be the filter. Well the filter got full. We started shifting resources into bullshit NON VALUED directorates, like Task Force Uniform, Task Force Excel, and then we started group punishments.
My XO told me to SHUT UP when I publicly questioned the need to do an all day “stand-down” to undergo sexual harassment training (post-Tailhook) that was clearly designed for a 2-sexed environment….as a single sexed environment wasn’t this a waste of time? It was. We wasted an entire day pounding a square peg into a tiny round hole.
Yeah, in the Army, in SF, which is an all-male community, we had SH bullshit day-long ordeals at that time, too, thanks to Tailhook’s media/Congressional high profile.
Again, we’ve said before and we’ll say again, there’s nothing wrong with this generation, there’s just some ate-up individuals out there. And there are some ate-up senior leaders there in all the services.
The Scarborough article is a month old. It’s still circulating among aviators, special operators, and current and retired senior field grade and general/flag officers. (We’ve seen it in, or had it forwarded from, all three channels over this past weekend).
The Navy has just canned the commander of the Blue Angels. Why? Because the Blues had “an atmosphere rife with sexually explicit speech, the open display of pornography and jokes about sexual orientation.” Based on an unsupported claim by an enlisted former squadron member of some navally-privileged race/sex/orientation. (The Washington Post, where that story appears, has led the Social Justice War on the military and been a huge booster of women in the military, to include completely fabricating stories of female heroism — the Post’s story of Jessica Lynch, Warrior Amazon was an unsourced tale completely fabricated by Post reporters Vernon Loeb, Susan Schmidt, and Dana Priest).