- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at email@example.com.
In the January issue of the resurgent Proceedings, a retired Navy captain calls out the service’s “surface warfare community” (that is, those who drive ships), alleging that it has a culture that downplays mistakes. “95 percent of lower level mishaps go unreported,” he writes. “Why is that? I submit that the surface warfare community — unlike the aviation and submarine communities — has a culture where lessons are kept within the lifelines whenever possible. Surface warriors do not like to admit mistakes or shortcomings, much less make formal reports of mishaps or damage that fall below the reportable threshold.”
In a sidebar, the author recommends that surface leaders imitate the aviation community and put out a magazine like Approach, published by and for Navy and Marine aviators. I’d never read it, so I went to the site, only to read that, “Approach Magazine’s final issue will be published in February 2017.” I asked the editor about that, and she replied, “As with many publications we are taking the magazine digital. It’s part budget, but mostly a sign of the times and we feel we can reach a larger audience by combining all four magazines and creating a new digital version. The new version will be available for download at the end of March. I agree with what Proceedings says and follow the example. Our magazines will still cover many of the same topics and will contain features all related to safety.”
By the way, there is a theme running through January’s Proceedings: the idea that micromanagement is killing the Navy, especially in surface warfare. The next article in the issue is a cri de coeur from a lieutenant (j.g.) who concludes that, “Micromanaging in combat leads to lost battles and wars.” Later there is a group interview with former SWIFT boat commanders who observe that, “when command-and-control becomes top-heavy, it can lead to disaster.”
Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Huey D. Younger Jr./U.S. Navy